Survey finds 89 per cent of them were not compensated

The heavy economic toll that human-wildlife conflict takes on communities living and working near forests is barely addressed by State governments, and compensation to victims of crop loss and cattle-death is “near absent,” a study has found.

During a scientific survey of households from 178 villages around three of India’s major National Parks (Ranthambore in Rajasthan, Kanha in Madhya Pradesh and Nagarhole in Karnataka) 89 per cent of respondents said they were not compensated by the Forest Department for crop loss, and 99 per cent said they got no compensation for cattle killed by wildlife.

An overwhelming majority of people – 82 per cent – within a 10-km radius of these parks suffered crop loss (with the highest number from Kanha), while 27 per cent saw livestock loss (highest in Ranthambore), according to estimates of the research paper titled ‘Living with wildlife and mitigating conflicts around three Indian protected areas’ published recently in the journal Environmental Management.

On average, households reported an annual crop loss worth Rs. 8,060 in Kanha, Rs. 13,728 in Ranthambore and Rs. 28,392 in Nagarhole. Four per cent of the surveyed households reported that people were injured or killed in confrontations with wildlife. The “losses reported were high relative to annual household income,” which was often not more that Rs.15,600 a year, the paper adds.

Lead author, Krithi Karanth of Wildlife Conservation Society (New York) told The Hindu that certain forms of wildlife-related loss typically get greater and prompter compensation than others. “For instance, human death or injury gets compensated more quickly, while livestock loss and crop loss can take a year for a response.”

“The near absence of compensation reported by respondents… potentially presents a challenge to maintaining tolerance for wildlife,” says the paper. When conservation regulations “impede local citizens’ capacity to cope with losses to wildlife” there is often a “retaliation against species,” it adds. The authors found however that “despite significant losses and poor compensation, some tolerance for losses to wildlife in India still exists, although it varies by PA [protected area] and species.”

In Nagarhole, elephants turned out to be top-ranking raiders of crop, often destroying an entire field, beating the ubiquitous wild boar considered the biggest devourers of crops in most States. Across the three States, leopards were the most prolific hunter of cattle, followed by tigers, hyenas and wolves.

Most people surveyed said they adopted measures to mitigate wildlife-related loss to their crops and cattle such as night watching, improving lighting and scare-devices. However, according to the authors’ analysis only fencing and guard animals were effective in lowering losses.

“Compensation schemes in place in these parks and those elsewhere in India might have to be revisited and restructured to be made more efficient and targeted toward species of focus,” the paper suggests.

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