Human-wildlife conflict in Kerala: CAG slams Forest dept for lapses in protecting wildlife habitats

21.81% (2,513.53 sq km) of forest land in Kerala diverted for non-forest purposes, says Comptroller and Auditor General report tabled in Kerala Assembly

Published - July 11, 2024 03:59 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

The failure of the Forest department to protect and maintain wildlife habitats is leading to fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitats and consequent increase in human-wildlife conflicts in Kerala, says CAG report.

The failure of the Forest department to protect and maintain wildlife habitats is leading to fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitats and consequent increase in human-wildlife conflicts in Kerala, says CAG report. | Photo Credit: K.K. Mustafah

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has slammed the Kerala Forest department for failing to protect and maintain wildlife habitats, a situation which, the CAG noted, has led to increase in human-wildlife conflicts.

The failure of the department to protect and maintain wildlife habitats is leading to fragmentation and loss of wildlife habitats and consequent increase in human-wildlife conflicts, noted the Compliance Audit Report of the CAG for the year ended March 31, 2022, tabled in the Kerala Assembly on July 11.

“The failure of the department to prevent the diversion of forest lands for non-forest purposes, protect wildlife habitats from encroachments, unplanned development projects, etc., and maintain wildlife habitats by securing elephant corridors, removal of invasive species, ensuring food and water availability etc., are the major reasons leading to human-wildlife conflicts in the State,” it said.

The CAG audit covered the period from 2017-18 to 2021-22.

While Forest department records show 11,524.91 sq km, which constitute around 29.66% of the total area of Kerala (38,863 sq km), as forest, the CAG report noted that 21.81% (2,513.53 sq km) of this land has been diverted for non-forest purposes and is generally not suitable for wildlife. Of these diversions, monoculture plantations accounted for 1562.04 sq km, while land leased to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB), plantations under public sector undertakings and private ownership constituted 514.90 sq km.

In this context, the CAG also observed that the Forest department has not conducted any study on the carrying capacity studies of the wildlife habitats in the State.

Human deaths

Audit noted 445 human deaths from 2017-18 to 2020-21 in Kerala on account of human-wildlife conflicts. There were 3,298 cases during this period where humans were injured in such incidents. Cattle loss numbered 1,630, while 24,425 applications were filed for crop loss/damage induced by human-wildlife conflicts.

Elephant attacks, the CAG report noted, accounted for the largest number of human-wildlife conflicts incidents during 2017-21, including 78 human deaths, followed by wild boar attacks.

Taking Wayanad district as a case study, the CAG observed that Wayanad district had the highest number of human-wildlife conflict claims in Kerala during the audit period.

“As per the Management Plan of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, forest land of Wayanad district in 1950 was 1,811.35 sq km which was reduced to 863.86 sq km in 2021. There is a reduction of 947.49 sq km forest with corresponding increase in area under plantation, cultivation, etc., leading to fragmentation of the once-continuous vegetation cover,” the report said.

Two development projects cited

With regard to unplanned development as a reason for human-wildlife conflicts, the report was critical of two development projects – the construction of an airstrip for the National Cadet Corps (NCC) close to the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Idukki and the establishment of the Indian Institute of Technology, Palakkad. The NCC airstrip was only 630 mfrom the tiger reserve boundaries, the report noted. “The department failed to inform the government in time about the conservation significance and adverse impact on wildlife,” it said.

The 500 acres earmarked for the IIT included 18.14 hectares of vested forest land, which had elephant presence and was part of the Nilambur elephant reserve, the report said. In this case too, the department had failed to inform the government on the implications with regard to human-wildlife conflicts, it said.

The CAG has recommended that the Forest department initiate initiated measures for eviction and prevention of encroachments, restoration of monoculture plantations to natural forests, relocation of forest settlements, and to avoid fragmentation and degradation of forests.

Further, the department should ensure effective wildlife habitat management by providing adequate resources to wild animals in order to retain them within the forest boundaries. The report also advised the government to make sure that the boundaries of the notified forest area is clearly demarcated.

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