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New Delhi: At least one human life was lost every day over the last three years due to conflict with elephants and tigers, environment ministry data showed. The reasons: Shrinking wildlife habitats and vanishing animal corridors.
A total of 1,144 human deaths were recorded due to conflict with tigers and elephants in 1,143 days till 18 May 2017.
During the period, 1,052 lives were lost to elephants. Among states, West Bengal led the list with 266 deaths (25%) and was followed by Jharkhand (161) and Chhattisgarh (158).
Similarly, 92 people died in tiger attacks during this period. Of these, 32 (nearly a third) were in West Bengal alone, followed by Maharashtra (16) and Madhya Pradesh (15).
Both tigers and elephants are protected animals in India and hundreds of crores of rupees are spent every year on their conservation. While the tiger is India’s national animal, elephants is the country’s national heritage animal. India’s present tiger population is 2,226 (2014 Census) and elephant population is 29,391-30,711 (2012 Census).
Despite all efforts, human-wildlife conflict has emerged as a major concern. The primary reasons of wildlife-human conflicts is the loss and degradation of wildlife habitats, increasing the chances of wild animals leaving their habitats and encountering people.
Governments, both at centre and states, have been making efforts to address the issue, but due to the huge pressure for development, natural habitats have suffered.
In February 2016, the Union environment ministry revealed a draft national wildlife action plan (NWAP) 2017-31. It is the third such plan after the second NWAP 2002-2016 ended in 2016.
The plan called for conservation measures involving all major stakeholders stating that rising conflicts have led to growing antipathy among people towards wildlife conservation, resulting in retaliatory killings or injuries to animals. The plan suggested the environment ministry ensure that developmental projects do not increase conflicts, use of traditional knowledge to tackle conflicts, national surveys to collect data on wildlife-human conflict and the formation of a trained workforce for forest departments to tackle conflicts.
For instance, the central government had suggested use of beehives and chilli fences to prevent human-elephant conflict.
The plan has not been finalized so far.
A senior environment ministry official, who did not wish to be identified, said, “the plan is delayed due to extensive consultation with all stakeholders including state governments. But it would be finalized very soon now.”
Wildlife activists call for a middle ground.
“There are multitudes of things that government needs to do. First and foremost, it needs to ensure proper collection of data as whatever data we have at present is an underestimate. Secondly, the government needs to increase the relief amount given to victims of wildlife conflict and ensure that it is paid quickly after the incident,” said Mayukh Chatterjee, head of the human-wildlife conflict mitigation division at the Wildlife Trust of India, a non-governmental organization.
He also said the government needs to work with expert bodies that have expertise in mitigating conflict in a systematic manner.
On the issue of development versus environment, Chatterjee said the solution lies in finding the middle ground.