Insights into Editorial: Human-wildlife conflict and mental health issues


27 August 2016

Conflict between people and wildlife has attained serious dimensions in many regions of the country to the detriment of conservation. Wild animals often stray in villages and farms in and around protected areas and sanctuaries, causing bloody conflicts. And now increasingly we are seeing wild animals wander into urban areas causing human-animal conflicts.
Causes of Man-Animal Conflicts:
  • Habitat fragmentation and shrinking of habitat give rise to shrinking of space, food etc. in the forest which is required for the wild animals which result in animals stray out of habitat in search of food, water or shelter. This habitat fragmentation may be result of many reasons, for example, Construction of roads especially big Highways and canals passing through dense jungles and the big mines.
  • Encroachment in the forest lands by local people has resulted in shrinkage of wildlife habitats especially on the fringes which has increased the pressure on the limited natural resources in the forest areas.
  • Increased disturbance due to collection of fuel wood, fodder, NTFPs, water etc. from the forests has also increased the incidences of man-animal conflict.
  • Increase in area under cultivation around wildlife habitats and changed cropping pattern have also contributed to increased man-animal conflict. People have started growing commercial crops like sugarcane and banana, which provide good hiding place for the wild animals like wild boar, sloth bear and panther.
  • It is observed that the local people have to go deeper and deeper, year by year for fetching firewood and other forest produce for their bonafide use, because of degradation of forests in the fringes. This has increased the number of incidences of man-animal conflict.
  • Infestation of wildlife habitat by the invasive exotic weeds like Lantana, Eupatorium and Parthenium have resulted in decreased availability of edible grasses for the wild herbivores. As a result, herbivores come out of forest area and cause depredation of agricultural crops on the fringes.
  • Monoculture of teak in the large scale forest plantations raised by the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra Ltd (FDCM) has also adversely affected the wildlife habitat value of the forest areas.
  • Most incidences of man-animal conflicts are noticed during summer when water becomes scarce. The livestock and wild animals have to share the limited water sources on the fringes or inside forest. Human interference with the natural drainage system in forest areas and diversion of water towards habitation has further complicated the issue.
  • In some forest areas, the number of wild animals especially prolific breeders like wild pig has increased beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat concerned. Hence wild animals stray out of forests cause man-animal conflict.
  • Decreased prey base caused by poaching of herbivores has resulted in carnivores moving out of forest in search of prey and indulge in cattle lifting.
  • Sometimes the wild animals and human come in sudden contact and out of fear of each other, they harm each other accidently.
Results of Human Wildlife Conflict:
  • Crop Damage.
  • Animal Deaths.
  • Loss of Human Life.
  • Injuries to People.
  • Injuries to Wildlife.
  • Livestock Depredation.
Mitigation measures of Man- Animal Conflict:
To control poaching: Poaching of wild animals should be stopped so that the no of wild animals can stabilize at its carrying capacity which would reach equilibrium in the ecosystem and this equilibrium between the numbers of prey animals and predators in the forest ecosystem would be maintained.
To undertake SMC works in the habitat: To stop soil erosion and to increase water availability in the forests, soil and moisture conservation measures (SMC) like vegetative checks dams, loose boulder check-dams, cement plugs, nala bunding, water tanks, should be taken in the forest so that water regime of the forest is increased in a natural way which will increase the productivity of the forests as well as water availability in the habitat. Then the sufficient food and water for wild life will be available and the number of animals straying out of forest will be controlled.
To stop monoculture and increase number of edibles miscellaneous species: Plant monoculture of species like teak should be avoided. Instead mixed plantations of miscellaneous, bamboo and fruit species can be considered. This will provide more food for animals in the forest, hiding shelter to animals as well as provide food for most herbivores.
Stop fragmentation of wildlife habitat and wildlife corridors: While going for construction of dams, long canals for irrigation and Highways through the forest areas, the fragmentation of wildlife habitat should be avoided and proper care should be taken so that the connectivity through wildlife corridors is not disturbed. Animals cannot pass these canals and roads easily and they are localized and their natural balance is disturbed. Big mines can also fragment the habitat hence to be avoided. The corridors of wildlife joining one habitat with nearby habitat which is essential for their sustenance should be maintained.
Providing LPG to villagers: LPG should be provided to those villagers who frequently go to the forest areas specially wildlife habitats to fetch fuel wood for their chullahs so that they may stop penetrating into forest and stop inviting Man- Animal Conflicts. These people are most vulnerable to Man-Animal Conflicts. Maharashtra Forest Department has started in big way to distribute LPG to villagers residing on the fringes under Joint Forest Management Program and Village Eco-development Program which will go a long way simultaneously to conserve forests and wildlife o and to reduce man animal conflicts.
Awareness Raising: People should be made more and more aware through meetings and pamphlets etc. that they should avoid going deep into the forest areas. If they have to go in any case they should go in groups and they should keep talking to each other to detract the wild animals. School children in vulnerable villages should be educated about the importance of wildlife and human co-existence with it.
Solar Fencing around agriculture fields: Agriculture fields situated near wildlife habitat/forest areas can be protected by stone fencing or solar fencing. Solar fencing has been tried with quite good effect in Wardha District of Maharashtra. The District Planning and Development committee is ready to give financial support to the farmers for erecting solar fencing.
Controlling crop pattern: Crops like sugarcane, Banana, Bajra, tuhar should not be allowed to be grown near forest areas. These crops attract wildlife for food as well as good hiding place.
Paying Ex-gratia/Compensation to the people: Ex-gratia /compensation should be paid promptly to the victims of wildlife attack so that the people will not become enemy of the wild animals. Otherwise people tend to take revenge from the wild animals by killing them by poison, trap, hacking or shooting as has been noticed in many cases.
Relocation/Rehabilitation of problematic and disadvantaged wild animal: If a wild animal like tiger, panther, or bear has become disadvantaged or problematic, this fact to be doubly confirmed and then only such animal should be caught either by tranquilization or by trapping cages, safely. Then it should be relocated in suitable habitat or be kept in a zoo or rescue centers for all its remaining life. However, it is not advisable to keep the stressed problematic animal to be released near the problem area where people may harm that animal. It is better to relocate this kind of animals by following the prescribed protocols in this regard.
What’s being ignored?
Enough attention has not always been given on the mental health of people who are the victims of human-wildlife conflict. Given that incidents of human-wildlife conflict occur in such large numbers across India, its impact on the mental well-being of victims has largely been peripheral to the conservation discourse.
  • However, these conflicts often magnify pre-existing financial problems or untreated mental disorders. In some cases, they may even generate new psychiatric morbidities or impact maternal health.
  • Both experts emphasize the need for a sustained interaction between conservationists and public health professionals as a way forward.
Way ahead:
The solutions are often specific to the species or area concerned, and are often creative and simple. Solutions should lead to mutually beneficial co-existence.
Apart from the above mentioned measures, the WWF report ‘Common Ground’ identifies themes that can be used to compose a common ground or a basic list of available and tested solutions.
These include:
A united effort: In order to be truly effective, prevention of human-wildlife conflict has to involve the full scope of society: international organizations, governments, NGOs, communities, consumers and individuals. Solutions are possible, but often they also need to have financial backing for their support and development.
Community-based natural resource management: The local community is key since they are the ones who may wake up in the morning with a tiger or bear in their back yard. But they are also the people who can benefit the most from this. If people are empowered to manage their relationship with wild animals, these “unwanted” neighbours can become allies in bringing income and promoting a better quality of life for all.
Payment for Environmental Services: Payment for Environmental Services (PES) is a concept that has recently gained popularity in the international development and conservation community. The most popular of these is financial reward for the sequestering of carbon, but it is also seen as a potential solution for human-wildlife conflict.
Wildlife friendly products: Consumers is distant countries also have a role to play. Always look for products that are environmentally friendly and recognized by serious organizations.
Field based solutions: There are a number of practical field-based solutions that can limit the damage done both to humans and human property, and to wildlife, by preventing wildlife from entering fields or villages. However, such solutions can only be applied on a case-by-case basis. What people see as solution in one place, they may resist in another. And what works in one place, may have the opposite effect somewhere else.

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