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Lighting fire crackers, using ferocious hounds and strumming loud drums doesn’t seem to be of help anymore. Leopards keep falling into wells, elephants continue tossing humans to death, Indian Gaurs topple vehicles, boars ravage crop and Wildcats maul cattle, and these instances have been making headlines more frequently in recent months.
A deadly conflict is underway between India’s growing masses and its wildlife.
In Tamil Nadu alone, the human-animal conflict has claimed at least 185 human lives, and more than 132 lives of elephants and tigers between 2013 and 2016, according to data from the State forest department and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and climate change of India. This data, however, ignores hundreds of other animals including leopards, monkeys, foxes, rabbits and other animals that are trapped in the conflict too.
The State forest department estimates a 50 percent rise in human-animal conflict this year owing to the severe drought that has strangled the State and its water bodies. The scarcity of water resources within the forests drives animals to the periphery, bringing them in conflict with humans living on the fringes.
This argument is however too simplistic and drought has merely added fuel to the already burning crisis.
For example, the human-animal conflict rose sharply in forests near Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri after a National Highway pierced through forestlands. On the other hand, increased cultivation of animal-enticing cash crops such as sugarcane has increased the conflict near Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve and Rajapalayam. Human-animal conflict in Tamil Nadu is complex, dynamic and factors causing the crisis vary geographically and from species to species.
Hating and loving humans
“Elephant poachers embed country acid bombs in fruits and leave it at foothills of Dindugul forest division,” rues KS Subramaniyan, founder secretary of Wildlife Association of Rajapalayam, adding that frequency of such incidents is increasing in recent days. The bomb explodes in the mouth of wild boars and other smaller herbivores. Subramaniyan claims that the perpetrators of the crime get away by pointing fingers at farmers who are at risk of facing crop damages by these boars.
On the other hand, entry of humans into forests have familiarised these animals far too much with humans, argues KV Sudhakar, secretary of Madras Naturalists Society. Eco-tourism and wildlife safaris acquaint wild animals to hundreds of tourists each day, diminishing their inherent fear for humans. “Tourist resorts in forests have become more in number and roads to reach them have become longer in length,” he commented, adding familiarity has bred contempt among animals.
Shrinking habitat, corridors
Even the limited space available to wild animals is shrinking with expanding demographic profiles and unreasonable demand for resources in pursuit of economic growth.
Unscientific development in forest buffers not only shrinks habitat and territory of wild animals, but also leads to isolation and inbreeding, making them genetically weak. When wildlife corridors are being infringed by growing human population, it makes the animal defensive, increasing the incidents of human-animal conflict.
In Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, for instance, the wildlife corridor between Western and Eastern Ghats is mired in regular conflict. The reserve is surrounded by human habitation along the entire southern boundary from Gudalur to Masinagudi area to a stretch of about 30 km restricting animal movement.
“Animals like elephants migrate along their traditional 201 corridors which have now got fragmented in Gudalur area due to anthropogenic reasons … In the case of tiger, it needs a minimum territory ranging from 2-5 sq. kms.
Since Gudalur Division is in close proximity with Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Wynad Wildlife Sanctuary, dispersed population of these animals therein, running short of the territorial areas, stray temporarily in search of food to the adjoining Gudalur Division, where intense human habitations exist,” observed Wildlife Conservation and Management in Tamil Nadu, a report published by the State forest department in 2016.
Allegations against the State
“In an attempt to create forests, the Department chooses to plant commercially valuable trees such as silver oak and eucalyptus,” alleges N Arun Shankar, secretary of the Palni Hill Conservation Council. He added that apart from being under-staffed the department also appoints unqualified conservators. The State forest department however denied these allegations.
Several measures taken by both public and the government has backfired as it lacks scientific vigour. Mixing glass pieces or poison with baits, grazing in forest land or shooting them only turns animals, particularly elephants (that have a strong memory) against farmers. Solutions offered by the government too have not been very successful.
The recent spell of rains has invited animals back to the forest, but it does not make up for shrinking green cover. “It is extremely important to detect and evict existing encroachments and prevent future ones,” the wildlife report stated. However, the plan is yet to be implemented.
Translocation not solution
Why it is bad?
Translocation of animals such as monkeys and snakes from urban areas to forest not only creates imbalance in the natural biodiversity, but also causes human-animal conflict in tribal areas
A June 2017 study by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) advices the government to engage in animal-fodder based afforestation and creation of artificial waterholes.
Rich and varied
With its hill areas and marshlands, TN is one of the highly bio-diverse states
187: Number of species of mammals in Tamil Nadu
The State is also home to 76 species of amphibians
The total protected area is 7,069.72 sq.km, which comes to 30.9 per cent of the State’s forest area. Under the concept of protected areas, there are five national parks, 15 wildlife sanctuaries, 14 bird sanctuaries and two conservation reserves besides four tiger reserves
The Mudumalai National Park, established in 1940, was the first modern Wildlife Sanctuary in