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When the wild elephants from Bardia National Park destroyed Mahangu Chaudhari’s house for the fifth time in three years, he was left with the only choice to abandon it.
Mahangu currently lives with his huge family of 51 members in adjacent houses in Pattharbojhi village of Khata Corridor in Bardiya. But even in his new house Mahangu’s fear of elephants still looms large.
A few meters ahead of Mahangu’s house, across the dusty road, lives Maiti Tharu. Maiti lost her only grandson (Yubaraj Tharu) to a wild elephant attack one year ago.
“My child was cycling back from school along with his friends on that doomed day when a wild elephant chased and killed him,” remembered Maiti while not being able to stop her tears.
Similarly, in another incident, Pardeshi Tharu, a resident of Khata village was attacked by a leopard while he was trying to save his cattle.
“It took me seven stitches and eight months to recover from the injury,” shared Pardeshi. “I was aware of leopards attacking cattle in the past but rising human casualties explains the gravity of a growing human wildlife conflict situation,” Pardeshi added.
These are some of the most frequently heard stories in Khata corridor lately. Khata, a three km long biological corridor that links Nepal’s Bardiya National Park with India’s Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, falls under the Tarai Arc Landscape (TAL) – a government declared landscape where WWF Nepal and the government are implementing landscape level conservation programs since 2000.
Khata comprises of an area of lowland savannah and grasslands that is home to some of the flagship species like tigers, elephants, and one-horned rhinos. Khata has around forty community forests and is home to some 11 million people who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods.
Understanding human wildlife conflict
Prior to TAL, the legalization of buffer zone in the mid-90s, made the local people like Mahangu an important stakeholder and beneficiary of the protected area system. Mahangu’s journey to conservation also began in the 90’s as a founding chairperson of Ganeshpur Sisnya Community Forest. He vividly remembers his former days of hardship to transform the land comprising of few old trees to a breathing forest today.
After pouring years of conservation effort, the forests in Khata are now restored. But with growing human population occupying more natural habitats, people and animals are increasingly coming into conflict over living space and food resulting in growing incidents wildlife attacks, crop and livestock depredation, destruction of property and even human casualties. These trends have become common not just in Khata but in the entire TAL.
According to Bali Ram Chaudhary, chairperson of Community Forests Coordination Committee (CFCC) of Khata, three people died and seven were injured from wild elephant attacks, more than two dozen cattle were killed by leopards, quintals of crops were raided and more than twenty houses destroyed by wild elephants in Khata in the last one year alone.
“Earlier, elephants from Bardiya National Park traveled through the villages in Khata towards Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary only once or twice a year. But now that the community forests are denser, the elephants have started residing there with frequent encounters in the village harming property, livestock and humans,” explained Ramesh Thapa, Chief Warden of Bardiya National Park.
“Agriculture is the only source of livelihood for the local community in Khata. When an animal destroys their year-long produce or kill their cattle, the impact it leaves is often huge for it results in retaliatory killing by the villagers to prevent future conflicts,” Thapa added
There have been numerous efforts by WWF Nepal together with the Government of Nepal to mitigate human wildlife conflict in TAL. These efforts are generally summarized into two broad measures – preventive and mitigative – to reduce the frequency of human wildlife conflict in TAL.
Preventing human-wildlife conflict
Out of all these preventive measures, a virtual fencing project was recently piloted in Pattharbojhi village in Khata by WWF Nepal seeking technological solutions to prevent human-wildlife conflict.
Mitigating human-wildlife conflict
In June 2017, the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) doubled the compensation amount for human and property damage caused by wild animals from the protected areas by amending the compensation directive. Now the family of a person killed in a wildlife attack will receive one million rupees – exactly double of the earlier amount.
Likewise, an individual who suffers from serious injuries in a wildlife attack will now get compensation of maximum Rs 200,000, whereas a victim with minor injuries will receive Rs 20,000. In case of crop depredation by wild animals, the compensation has also been doubled to Rs 20,000.
From the support of the TAL program, Rapid Response Teams have been formed at the community level to provide immediate cash or food support to the victim families, rescue wild animals and monitor the illegal activities in the community.
The TAL program, through various community groups, also provides compensation ranging from Rs 2,000 to 50,000 depending upon the damage to the victim’s family. Likewise, improved predator prof coral provided by TAL have prevented livestock depredation while the construction of fences and trenches have constrained wild animals from entering the village.
Finding a common ground to reduce conflict
While there have been several measures taken both by the government and conservation organizations to tackle the problem of human-wildlife conflict, the victims of such conflict are still very frustrated.
Bali Ram Chaudhary from Khata CFCC says, “The frequency of human wildlife conflict has escalated in recent years. We receive an average of 10-20 complaints from just one village in a month. But we don’t have enough resources to address all the requests.”
Likewise, the procedure for claiming compensation is also viewed as being very lengthy and tedious that many villagers have stopped registering complaints for the loss of crops and domestic animals.
An important consideration is to first understand that this problem can only be minimized and not completely eradiated. Additionally, long-term commitments from conservation organizations, government, local communities and backed up by innovative solutions on the ground is highly required which will help ease the problem.
Living in harmony with nature
Mahangu said, “We grew up in the lap of nature and can’t imagine living elsewhere. These wild animals are the assets of Khata and we are responsible for preserving them so the concerned authorities need to create a conducive environment for us to coexist with nature.”
Kanchan Thapa, wildlife lead of WWF Nepal explains conflict between people and animals as one of the main threats to the continued survival of many species as well as keeping the local communities motivated to support conservation work.
Asking all the conservation players to unite to provide adequate and timely support to address the conflict, he says we must secure local peoples life and livelihood to ensure their support for conservation in return. Then only we can achieve living in harmony with nature in the best possible way.
Relief fund aiding communities to build their dreams
Married in a joint family of nine members thirteen years ago, it was difficult for Nanda Kandel and her husband, residents of Karmala village in Bardiya, to eke out a living for the family.
Three years ago, Nanda’s father in-law was killed by an elephant near their house while he was repairing the electric fence damaged by a group of elephants the previous night.
Nanda became a member of “Jagaruk Mahila Upabhokta Samuha” a cooperative established under TAL program to specifically support the family of conflict victims like her in income generation activities.
“From the cooperative I have taken a loan of Rs 100,000 in two installments and invested in my shop. The loan has helped me expand my store from a roadside stall to a proper shop with goods worth two lakhs,” said Nanda. I make a daily profit of Rs 8000 to 9000 from my shop which I have been saving to build our house,” she said with a smile.
Early warning system for elephants
With a special focus on elephants as a key cause of human-wildlife conflict, an early warning system – a technology which helps detect approaching animals and pre-inform communities before an encounter or incident occurs – was successfully piloted. Hybrid sensors have been laid in Paththarbojhi Village of Khata corridor.
“Electric fences did wonders for communities to prevent elephants from raiding people’s farms until a few years ago. But over the years, this approach has started becoming less effective since elephants are smart enough to find ways through these barriers,” said Gokarna Jung Thapa, Senior GIS Manager at WWF Nepal.