Problem animals — on wildlife protection strategies

In June this year, the Bombay High Court quashed an order by the Maharashtra Forest Department to shoot a tigress in the Bramhapuri region after she killed two persons. The death warrant was overturned as a result of a Public Interest Litigation petition by an animal rights activist, which argued that the tigress’s behaviour had been forged by illegal human intrusion into her territory. Forest officials were then forced to capture the problem animal and re-release her in the Bor forest reserve, less than 200 km away, putting another set of villagers in harm’s way. This is the latest in a series of instances where forest departments have gone against the advice of conservation researchers; the fact that they were arm-twisted into doing so by animal-lovers makes it even more worrisome. The released tigress went on to kill two others in Bor, and the authorities scrambled to capture her again. Such actions go against conservation science. Translocating a large carnivore as a response to conflict does not work. Large predators need a certain prey density and are territorial, and they would tend to find their way back, even over hundreds of kilometres, to their original habitat. The stress of relocation, with hostility from other predators already present, often drives them to greater aggression. A 2011 study in Maharashtra showed that moving leopards from one region to another to reduce attacks on livestock only increased attacks on humans. To translocate a tiger in response to man-eating behaviour is absurd.

Conservation science sometimes throws up counter-intuitive wildlife protection strategies. In 2015, there was a global hue and cry over the killing of the Hwange National Park’s star attraction, Cecil the Lion, by an American dentist. Animal lovers couldn’t fathom how licences to kill lions, under Zimbabwe’s trophy-hunting programme, could be legally purchased. It remains a controversial strategy. Evidence in support of the controversial strategy is admittedly mixed. But countries such as Namibia have shown that well-managed trophy-hunting schemes help conserve charismatic megafauna, by pumping revenue from hunting licences back into conservation. Selected individuals, often old and infirm, are sacrificed, but the species wins. This is the aim of culling man-eating carnivores too, a practice that chief wildlife wardens turn to only when they have no other choice. The idea is to mitigate conflict with humans, which itself is a danger to the species. Experience indicates that introducing problem animals into a region antagonises the local people, who can turn against the predators and kill them indiscriminately. A major challenge for India in the coming years will be to engage rural communities in conservation, because our burgeoning population and a revival in tiger numbers will only increase the intensity of conflict. Coercing terrified villagers to co-exist with man-eaters is the best way to ensure we lose our chance of doing that.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 4:36:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/problem-animals/article19829915.ece

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