We hear many stories of animals getting into human habitation causing havoc, destruction and fear. Do you know why this is happening?

It was a breathtaking view. Black clouds were rolling over the mountain peak, covered with tall trees. The evening sun penetrated the clouds and spot-lighted the forest in foot hills. Adjacent to the forest, spread a carpet of agricultural fields. An old man sat on a machan in his paddy field enjoying the view. But he was there not so much to enjoy this beauty. Last night a herd of elephants had visited a neighbouring village and eaten up most of the paddy that was ready for harvest. Now, he guarded his fields hoping to chase away the elephants should they visit. Wild boar and spotted deer were also regular visitors to his fields. Compared to elephants they caused less damage to his crops, but it was easy to chase them away.

These are not the only animals villagers worry about. In recent times, several cattle and goats have been lifted by a leopard in their village. There are reports from the nearby village of a child being attacked and people sighting a leopard a couple of times. Occasionally, even Bonnet monkeys visited their orchards and ate up the ripe fruits including mango, an important cash crop. Villagers consider birds such as Peafowl and Rose-ringed parakeets a menace on their groundnut and sunflower fields.

Of course, the Government does pay compensation for loss of crop or human life caused by wild animals. But, the compensation is insufficient when you consider the months of work that goes into farming, and the loss of a dear one is always hard to bear.

People tried several methods to keep wild animals away from their fields and villages. Power fences were erected around fields against crop-raiding animals. Baited cages were kept to catch the leopard with plans of releasing it elsewhere. However, the problems still remain. In worst cases, animals have been shot, poisoned, or snared to death by the irate villagers.

This was not the case when the old man was young, although there were some stray incidents. When he was a boy, a tiger had once lifted a cow in the village. People panicked and reported this to the village headman. Within few days the tiger was shot dead. Since then, there were no reports of tigers in this region. The old man wondered about fewer incidents of animals causing problems to human beings during the olden days. But there were also fewer villages when compared to now. He is aware that as the population increased, their demands have increased causing people to clear forested areas for agriculture fields and human habitations. People didn't stop at occupying the habitat of the wild animal, but also harvested and hunted their food resources. Forests are now divided into small patches surrounded by agricultural fields and human habitations. People have also infringed on traditional pathways that the animals used when moving from one forest to another.

It was getting dark and the old man lit a fire. He thought, “we call animals as trespassers but then who are we?”

The writer is a Scientist with Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore.

Email: jegan@ncf-india.org

Some solutions

Capturing and releasing the animals elsewhere or chasing them away are only short term measures and do not solve the problem in the long run. Site-specific, scientifically sound, and practical mitigation measures should be formulated. It is essential to understand movement patterns and ecology of wild animals to reduce conflict. Maintaining protected areas and arresting further deterioration of forest fragments will be important to have these areas as animal corridors.

Despite the loss of crops and human life by wild animals, unlike in any other parts of the world, Indians have maintained a traditional tolerance towards wildlife. One of the many reasons for this is the cultural significance of many animals in our lives. Awareness about their importance and fostering existing tolerance towards animals among people would also help in finding the long term solution to solve and minimize these conflicts.

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