Despite the fact that humans have interacted with animals since the dawn of civilization, I am continuously plagued with some questions. To cite a few: Are animals a natural resource for humans to use as they choose? Or are animal’s free beings with the right to live their lives without human interference? Is there a hunky-dory negotiation somewhere in between? People answer these questions differently depending on their cultural practices, religious and ethical beliefs, and everyday experiences with animals. The Kashmir valley has been witnessing numerous wild animal attacks for many years now, so it is vital to address this problem together with the implementation of mitigation strategies.
As rightly said by Newton, "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction"; same is the case with human-wildlife conflict. For our basic knowledge, we must know that human-wildlife conflict instigated by competition for shared natural resources ascends due to the negative interactions mounting between humans and wild animal species. The objectionable consequences of human-wildlife conflict are crop annihilation, reduced agricultural productivity, struggle for grazing lands and water supply, livestock predation, injury and death to humans, infrastructure damage, and amplified risk of zoonotic disease transmission among wildlife and livestock. In response to it, outcomes are always decided by humans and, in many regions, these conflicts have intensified over recent years as a result of hike in the human population. The species of animals responsible for this unprecedented tragedy differ, starting from grain-eating sparrows or rodents to man-eating leopards and tigers. It’s for sure the consequences are no better for wild species which bear the brunt in the form of retaliatory killing and lethal control. It has been reported that stochastic events such as fire and climate change also enhance conflict situations. Talking of the Indian scenario, India is a mega-diverse country owing to its large climatic and topographic gradient, and with only 2.4% of the world's land area, it harbours around 8% of all recorded species, including 91,000 species of animals and 45,000 plants. Out of 34 global 'Biodiversity Hotspots', four falls fully or partly within Indian political boundaries. With more than 100 National Parks and more than 500 Wildlife Sanctuaries, India also has an extensive network of protected areas and wildlife reserves. As India is among the most populous countries with around 17% of the world's human population, these protected area landscapes are not untouched by human presence. The increasing human population explosion puts the wilderness areas under threat due to increasing interference, deforestation, natural habitat fragmentation, and extension of agricultural lands in the forest landscapes. As human settlements increase and protected areas become conservation islands surrounded by human-dominated landscapes, the negative interaction between human and wild animals, particularly large species, surges, resulting in fatal wild animal attacks.
The conflict involving carnivore species, particularly conflict-prone large felids, is considered to have potentially catastrophic consequences for both wildlife and humans. Both Tiger and Leopard have wide-ranging behaviour due to large habitat requirements, resulting in increased chances of becoming involved in conflict with humans residing in adjoining areas.
In the Kashmir valley, human-wildlife conflict is also increasing at an alarming rate and in Kashmir, the major wild animals responsible for human-wildlife conflict include black bears, leopards, monkeys, and red foxes. According to the data from the J & K Wildlife Department, about 3,390 people were injured and 229 were killed in the human-animal conflict in the Valley between 2006 and 2019, with peak episodes during the cold winter months.
This means in the last 13 years, every year at least 17 people died and another 261 were injured due to the human-wildlife conflict. Because of this alarming situation, our kids are also now becoming victims of human-wildlife conflict. Recently, heart rending news was aired on TV channels about a 4-year-old girl from Budgam who was mauled to death by a leopard and this accident was not less than a shocking for the entire people of the Kashmir valley. So, who blame the leopard, locals of that area, or the wildlife department only? I must say everybody is responsible.
Knowing all these consequences of human-wildlife conflict, it’s imperative to implement strict mitigation strategies for resolving human-wildlife conflicts. Different hitherto strategies utilized include lethal control, translocation of problematic wild animals, population size regulation, and endangered species preservation. Translocation of problematic wild animal species from a site of conflict to a new place is a mitigation technique used in the past, although recent research has shown that this approach can have detrimental impacts on species and is largely ineffective since it can decrease survival rates and lead to their extreme dispersal movements.
Recent methodology to resolve the human-wildlife conflict must utilize comprehensive and cross-sectoral collaborative processes between forestry, wildlife, agriculture, livestock, and other relevant sectors that will surely help in alleviating this issue on a larger scale.
Additionally, it’s the duty of all stakeholders, and experts of the concerned sectors to improve imparting community education and the perception of the general public regarding animals. Not only this, government authorities must offer monetary compensation for losses sustained due to human-wildlife conflict, since such actions will deter the need for retaliatory killings of animals, and financially encourage the co-existence of humans and wildlife.
The use of guard dogs is also one of the effective strategies in mitigating human-carnivore conflict around the globe and it can lower the loss of livestock by 60%. Lastly, it must be kept in mind that mitigation strategies for managing human-wildlife conflict vary significantly depending on location and type of conflict. Regardless of approach, the most successful solutions are those that will include local communities in the planning, implementation, and maintenance. Therefore, it is time we all stand together in combatting human wildlife conflict through proper scientific methodologies that will surely help humans and wild animal species to live in peace and harmony.
Dr. Abrar Ul Haq Wani, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Medicine, Khalsa College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Amritsar (GADVASU -Punjab)
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.