In the last 3 years 80 people have died and over 900 injured across Kashmir in attacks by wild animals. This means over two persons have been killed in a month over the past three years. And over 25 people injured each month during the same period. This sounds like a situation which calls for emergency measures. When two people die each month due to attacks by wild animals and many more are mauled for life, there is certainly something alarming happening. We are not quantifying here the fear and terror caused by these animals, and the social and economic disturbance such a state of affairs causes. For example, in places where wild animals like bears have made the lives of people miserable it is not easy to come out of homes after sunset. For any outing is fraught with risk to life. People have to watch for their children playing in shrinking grounds in the outskirts of towns and villages. Since these wild life attacks take place far away from the media limelight and are not as sensational as the media may have wanted them to be, they remain off the main radar. More often the news is tucked somewhere in a tiny corner, overshadowed by the rough and tumble of politics. The magnitude of the problem is directly proportional the pathetic response.
We are often informed that the cause is the diminishing habitat of the wild animals. This appears to be a logical explanation. Human beings have gradually expanded out into the domain of the wild animals. In an ideal world bears would not do anything to human beings. Because as Ernest Hemingway in a different but comical context said: human beings are similar to bears because both have the same body under the hide, both enjoy music, drink beer and like to dance. I would add that both enjoy fish and the smell of apples. (And if the human being is a Koshur then both he and the bear enjoy being surrounded by dirt) But bears may share traits with human beings; unfortunately they are not same as human beings. Most research on bears has confirmed that if you are too close to bears to change their pattern of behaviour, you are actually too close to danger. Basically, this applies to most wild animals. If you leave them to their own habitat, the chances are that you will live a safe life. However, if your actions stir any kind of disturbance or fear in the animal world, the beasts being beasts without mind comparable to human beings, will react as they like to do, and inflict damage on life and property. The result of the reaction of wild animals is before us and the prediction is that these attacks will grow in intensity and rapidity.
The government informs us that steps have been taken to tackle the problem. And many steps have been mentioned including distribution of net cages, tranquilizers, rapid response team etc. If such responses had been timely and effective, we would not have a situation of so frequent deaths. These measures sound impressive on paper but on ground the situation is more scary and confusing. Sometimes it appears to me that there is competition between transport, military conflict and the wild animals in eliminating human beings. The reality is that the response of the government has been unsurprisingly quite uninspiring. Each time a death occurs money is distributed among the family members of the victims. Up until now the amount of compensation money must have crossed crores. How good it would have been if instead of sending cheques to family members of dead and injured people, the same money was used to buy more instruments of control and placed in high density in places where the threat is imminent. With such a move lesser money could be spent than when the administration waits for a tragedy to happen. The early and systematically placed manpower and controlling instruments can go a long way in preventing loss of precious human life and property. As it is there is more baloney than brain behind measures used to handle the situation.
Given how things are unfolding, and how the countryside is reeling under the threat of the wild animals, the least that people concerned with these animals could do is to educate the masses. The educational tours may be conducted to inform people about the ways life can be saved from encounters with wild animals. Very often a person out of ignorance of the behavioural patterns of animals just creates a situation in which he becomes the next meal of the beast. More attention in this sphere has to be given to children who might be even more reckless in dealing with wild animals. A population educated about the precautions to be taken against wild animals may in turn think about the consequences of going into the territory of these animals. The point is to tell people how to be kind to creation other than their own. This kindness means not invading just homes of other human beings but also that of non-human creatures. And as Margaret Atwood says the best way you can be kind to bears is by not being very close to them.
(Javaid Iqbal Bhat is Assistant Professor at South Campus, University of Kashmir)