Kerala’s tragedy offers a lesson
India needs a better framework for human-animal conflict
The Kerala police on Friday arrested a man and detained another in connection with the recent killing of a pregnant elephant. The arrested man, an employee of an estate that grows cash crops and spices, reportedly told investigators that they set up a snare of fruit filled with crackers to scare and possibly kill wild boars, which often destroyed their crops. While the elephant’s killing is heartbreaking, the case points to a larger conservation challenge that India faces today: Human-animal conflict. One hundred and forty-four people were killed between April 2014 and May 2017 because of this, as were many elephants, tigers and leopards. Unfortunately, there is no government data on the deaths of animals due to human-animal conflict.
This conflict is growing. On one hand, there is an explosion of human population, shrinking forest cover, urbanisation, poaching, increasing road density, destruction of natural corridors, and agricultural expansion. On the other, India is also home to the largest population of the tiger, Asian elephant, leopard and sloth bear, and these animals cannot be restricted within demarcated territories. With the demands for development rising — disruptive projects in protected areas were even cleared during the national lockdown — the conflict will increase in the future.
It is not easy to strike the right balance between development needs and preservation of the natural world, but, as studies show, there are ways of managing the crisis better. Monitor and evaluate human-wildlife conflicts and compile data on conflict situations, their causes, and solutions; draw up a research, planning, and a long-term policy/management framework; rethink land use planning (with enough space for humans and animals, buffer zones and wildlife corridors); strengthen community-based natural resource management; include communities in forest-based employment such as ecotourism; compensate for loss of lives, crops and livestock; and incentivise states that manage their natural heritage better than others. States must also have rescue units and animal crisis centres, adequate forest professionals, veterinarians, and equipment. As the coronavirus disease shows, the loss of natural habitats increases the risk of pandemics. This is not only because of biodiversity loss, but also because it forces animal species to venture into new grounds, and clash with humans. The Kerala tragedy is a reminder for a better framework to deal with the conflict.