Land use pattern need to be changed to resolve man-animal conflicts (Udhagamandalam, India)


The Times of India 

Date Published

Continuing reports of human deaths due to man-animal conflict in the Nilgiris have caused considerable angst for wildlife activists as well as the public in the hills. Thirty-six people were killed by wild animals in the Nilgiris in 2015-16. Forest officials attribute it to the change in land use pattern and crop cultivation close to reserve forest areas. Besides, despite being cautioned, local people mindlessly venture into forest lands.

The past two years witnessed 18 human deaths each in the Nilgiris. In 2014, the total number of cases reported were 12.

Most of the deaths in the past two years were due to elephant attacks, that too in private lands where the animals had strayed into. Activists say the government should seriously consider taking long term measures to prevent such deaths.

“The main reason for the conflict is human pressure. And in many cases people living in the fringe areas mindlessly venture into forest areas in the early hours of a day and fall victim,” Kalanidhi, district forest officer (Nilgiris north division), told TOI. He did not deny animal pressure on people living in the fringe areas of the forests.

With the animal and human population growing, conflict arises when resources are shared, according to Kalanidhi. “Of course, the animal population is increasing, but is sustainable. As far as humans are concerned, their land use pattern and change in crops attract wild animals widely,” he said, adding, “To curb the intensity of the conflict we are initiating all possible measures wherever necessary.”

Also, fragmentation of undeveloped lands in recent times is another cause of the conflict. Attracted by banana, sugarcane, paddy and coconut cultivations in the fringe areas of forest, elephants intrude into the areas looking for fodder and in the process destroy the fields also.

Apparently, the population of elephants and gaurs has increased in the Nilgiri forest areas. Increase in human population exerts much pressure on the animals in the fringe areas.

In the past two months this year, two deaths were reported; one due to elephant attack and another in an attack by an Indian gaur.

The Gudalur division of forests in the Nilgiris saw 10 victims to man-animal conflict in 2015 while the number surged to 13 in 2016.

According to P K Dileep, district forest officer (Gudalur division), with the Janmam Act and the TNPFP Act, the division is very complex in nature. The Gudalur division of forests houses the most number of elephants in the Nilgiris.

“We are maintaining a constant vigil in the division and an early warning system is in place,” Dileep told TOI. In association with an NGO, Shola Trust, the forest department has been conducting a study in the Gudalur forest division on how the conflicts could be brought down. “The study is yet to be completed. Based on its outcome, control measures could be enhanced accordingly. As of now, we have erected caution boards in sensitive areas,” Dileep added.

K Kalidasan, president, OSAI, told TOI, “It is a matter of grave concern that 18 human deaths were reported in a year in the Nilgiris due to man-animal conflict. The situation should be thoroughtly analysed. Most of the tribal communities live inside forest areas. But they don’t seem to fall prey to animals as they know how to live in harmony in the wild. It is the people who live in the fringe areas who fall prey due to lack of awareness.”

According to Kalidasan, as far as the Gudalur area is concerned, most of the corridor lands are either encroached or they fall under section 17 of the Janmam Land Act where tea estates or farming lands are located. “Repeated chasing of elephants by local people in the Gudalur area is a provocation. That is why the elephants resort to attacks,” he said.

Only joint efforts by the forest department, local bodies, municipalities, private tea estates and TANTEA can curtail the conflicts, he said.