The death toll in human-animal conflicts has been increasing day by day everywhere. Mostly, these conflicts are related to the attacks by elephants, tigers, bears, wild boars etc. In some of the areas people scared of the increasing face-off are migrating to other areas by leaving their houses, homestead and agricultural lands aside due to threat to their lives and livelihoods by the wild animals. The issues regarding injuries and deaths due to such conflicts, providing ex-gratia to the deceased, support to the injured people and compensation for the loss of livelihood and property remain the focal points of discussion.
Most of us are concerned about protection and promotion of rights of human beings instead of rights of the wild animals. We are less concerned about our own initiatives to get rid of such problems in a sustained way and think the Government is responsible to do so.
As per a report tabled in the Lok Sabha, the last three years from 2019 to 2022 witnessed elephants killing 1,579 humans out of which Odisha has the highest number with 322 deaths, followed by Jharkhand at 291 and West Bengal at 240. During the period, 307 elephant deaths were reported. Tigers killed 125 humans in reserve forests between 2019 and 2021 in which, Maharashtra accounted for nearly half these deaths, at 61. The numbers may be more due to unreported and unregistered cases.
Electrocution, train accidents, poisoning and poaching have been the reasons behind elephant deaths whereas poaching and poisoning have been a measure cause of tiger deaths. According to Minister of State for Forest, Environment and Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey, “As a result of concerted efforts made for protection and conservation of wildlife, the population of several wildlife species like tigers, elephants, Asiatic lions, Rhinos etc. in the country has increased”. This puts question marks before the environmentalists and social activists who have been fighting and advocating for the animal rights and wild lives. Frequently, the killings of wild animals have been the focal points of discussions in the media houses. Looking at such a scenario, it is feared that, a time may come when people will see the wild animals only in reserved forests, sanctuaries, zoos or in photos and videos. The sacrifices of the local people of reserve forest areas in terms of their lives and livelihood, for the welfare of the wild lives intensifies conflict of interests and human-animal conflicts.
The main reasons behind human-wild animal conflicts are the shrinking of habitat due to encroachments, economic alienation, urbanisation, growth of population and industrialisation. Along with the above causes, changing cropping patterns, forest fire, movement of wild animals from forests area to human habitats for food, fodder and water, movement of human beings to forests for the collection of NTFP and other forest produce, poaching of animal organs and flesh and curiosity towards hunting have been the responsible factors. For the protection and promotion of local forests and caring of wild animals community forest management (CFM) has been playing a crucial role.
The locals also think themselves as the children of the soil and take collaborative approach for the protection of their environment. Pakidi hills of Ganjam district has been an inspiration for many as the peacock population now has reached more than 2,000 due to the caring support of the local people. Besides, Nayagarh Jungle Suraksha Mahasangh had also scripted success stories of CFMs for the increase of real jungle areas and contribution of local community for the protection of wild animals, jungles and hills through ‘Thenga Pali’ approach (guarding of forests by the local households on rotation basis by holding sticks). The villagers not only protect the jungle/wild animals and birds from poachers and forest fires but also feed them and provide water facilities during summers for them.Now along with CFM, the Government machineries are also involved in the forest management activities along with the local people.
While moving towards joint forest management (JFM) approach, the responsibilities are now shared with Government officials and community members. Each of the stakeholders tries to justify their own stand as just and right for the protection of forests and wild animals. Numerical calculations on death of human beings and animals, arresting and imprisonment of the hunters/poachers cannot be the solution mechanisms for stopping the conflicts. Because, the real consumers are not the poachers rather they have been the scapegoats for others who are the invisible hands of hunting. Some of the States have also taken initiatives to promote ‘Van Panchayats’ for the protection of both forests and wild animals through the involvement of local people. However, these remain futile due to expansion of human habitat and easy way of conversion of forest land to homestead lands, mines and industrial zones without considering the viewpoints of local people.
Compensating the number of tress by undertaking plantation programmes is not achieved due to lack of follow-up mechanisms. Like the SHGs, if the Government is able to form different active groups for the protection of forests and encourage plantations, this may be a way forward towards wild life protection.
The wild life friendly approaches have been adopted in different parts of the country like growing bio fences like lemon trees, setting up beehives in the paddy fields, low intensity solar or bio barbwires, beating drums and putting fire to prevent the elephants and wild boars from the agricultural fields should be promoted. Forest and Wild life Department should be self sufficient to control the entry of wild animals to human habitats. Like other Government programmes the man-animal conflicts and afforestation issues should be placed regularly in the agenda of social audits held in gramsabha or block level to make it proactive towardswild life conservation. Finally, an eco-friendly humanitarian approach can solve the problem in a sustainable way.
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