Human-wildlife conflict: India can do better

It is the human being, supposedly the most intelligent and the kindest, one who has emerged as the biggest predator of all time. Since the Industrial Revolution, the race for development has become both - a boon (economically) and a bane (environmentally) for the world. Hunger for growth has led to enormous loss of precious wildlife. According to The Living Planet Report released in September 2014 by World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), between 1970 and 2010, the world has lost 52 per cent of its wildlife species. With such a huge loss of species, there is a direct acceleration of climate change. Wildlife is a key component of bio-diversity and such a huge loss disrupts ecological balance eventually changing the environment.

However, not every action of man is irreversible. For example, the re-introduction of wildlife species can change and sustain the ecosystem. The perfect example is the re-introduction of wolves in the Yellowstone National Park in the United States of America.     

Even though India represents just 2.4 per cent of the world’s land mass, its fauna accounts for 7.3 per cent of the global faunal population. This wildlife boasts of the famous Royal Bengal Tiger, one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic lion, and leopard etc. The Himalayas as well as the Western Ghats are the hotspot of biodiversity in the country. New species of reptiles and amphibians are still being discovered in the Western Ghats. The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 has also helped in the cause of protecting and supporting the faunal population.

But times are changing. Incessant poaching and human-wildlife conflict is affecting the population of some of the prime species in India. In Assam, the one-horned rhino has been poached for its horn which according to superstitious beliefs is supposed to have medicinal qualities. Similar is the story of the tiger, leopard and elephant. All prime examples of illegal trafficking of animal parts for profitable ventures.

Let us take the example of the leopard. The popular belief is that wild animals are encroaching upon human territory, but the truth is exactly the opposite as these news reports from Guwahati, Assam; Mumbai, Maharashtra; Meerut, Uttar Pradesh prove. The story of the leopard needs to be told also because glamorous animals like tigers and elephants have dedicated protection schemes while the leopard has to fend for itself.

Despite government protection, not all tigers are safe. Those who roam in the periphery of the national parks usually become a victim. A documentary by Krishnendu Bose, The Forgotten Tigers shows the plight of such tigers. Uncontrolled development is ripping up the habitats of our wildlife species, which is in turn accelerating climate change.
If the pursuit of development has helped man, it has in return put major wildlife species on the endangered list. Blaming policy-makers does not help much as we crave for better roads, better water supply and better infrastructure.

Despite human-wildlife conflict being a global phenomenon, what makes a difference is how a country handles the situation. For instance, to avoid a human-wildlife conflict, creating awareness among people living near the wildlife sanctuaries and parks plays an important role. A perfect example can be seen from this example of Sonitpur, Assam, where collaboration between the WWF and the local community over man-elephant conflict kept the situation under control. Forest officials here have to do more than collar the animals. Importantly, the community has to be kept involved so that there are no negative sentiments against the animals. Strengthening the Indian Forest Act can be a good beginning.

published date:December 24, 2014
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