Land protection measures are ineffective as human-animal conflict is inevitable
Dealing with large charismatic animals that raid crops, kill livestock, injure or kill people requires improved processing of claims filed by affected people. More than 1,00,000 incidents of conflict were claimed in Karnataka between 2000-2010. These claims perhaps represent a small fraction of actual incidents. The picture that emerges is that human-wildlife conflict in India is relatively common and often tolerated by people who are only partially compensated for losses.
How do we deal with losses to wildlife? Are sustained crop and livestock losses less problematic or worrisome than human injuries or death? Does an elephant or tiger or leopard incident require more attention than losses owing to a jackal or pig incident? How do we address losses when there are such a wide array of animals and crops involved?
People and wildlife commonly co-habit in India, particularly on the fringes of many of our parks and sanctuaries. Households farming and living in close proximity to these “hard-edges” are more vulnerable to losses. Should we focus our limited conservation resources on these most vulnerable people and places? Perhaps as a necessary first step, these households close to our parks need better access to insurance schemes and efficient filing of their compensation claims.
Recent scientific studies conducted by me and other scientists surveyed almost 2,000 households in Karnataka and 735 households in Madhya Pradesh living around six tiger reserves. In Karnataka, we found 64 per cent of households reported crop losses and 15 per cent reported livestock losses. In Madhya Pradesh, we found 73 per cent reported crop losses and 33 per cent reported livestock losses. Remarkably, the government compensated only 31 per cent of households in Karnataka and 22 per cent in M.P. with most losses going unreported and silently borne.
Our research efforts highlighted some key differences — the most common crop raiders were different in the two States (pig and elephant in Karnataka compared to pig, chital and langur in M.P.), while livestock predators were similar (tiger and leopard in both places along with wolf and jackal in M.P.). Overall, many more animals were reported in M.P. compared to Karnataka. This suggests that establishing an insurance scheme targeted at specific species may perhaps be easier in Karnataka. We also found the administrative buffer surrounding the park in M.P. improved access to compensation for local people and perhaps we need to establish similar buffers around parks in Karnataka.
The reality is that some level of interaction and conflict will always occur when you have people and wildlife sharing space and resources. Identifying what mitigation measures might lower conflict is also important. Our work in Karnataka and M.P. suggested that although people tried many different ways including fences, using scare devices, guard animals to protect their land, property and livestock, these measures were quite ineffective. Therefore, insurance and compensation may prove more effective in dealing with conflict than large-scale investments in fences, trenches and other practices deployed by individuals, government and non-governmental agencies.
Fortunately, the financial resources to establish insurance and compensation schemes do exist. It is not a matter of raising more money. Rather, the question is how we could reach out to thousands of villages that abut our wild landscapes. We also have the technology to establish cell-phone-based early warning systems that have proven effective in saving human lives and lowering confrontations with wildlife in India and Africa. For those of us living in cities and enchanted with tigers, leopards or elephants our demands that local people “tolerate” losses must be accompanied with concrete supportive actions that minimise their losses. Clearly, the wildlife losses must be borne by larger society and not just people living next to wildlife.
(The writer is a conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Centre for Wildlife Studies.)