Human-Wildlife Conflict

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    According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), 186 elephants were killed on rail tracks in over 10 years (between 2009-10 and 2020-21).

    About

    • As per the data furnished by the Project Elephant Division of the Ministry, Assam accounted for the highest number of elephant casualties on railway tracks (62), followed by West Bengal (57), and Odisha (27). Uttar Pradesh saw a single death.
    • The frequency and number of train kills have, in fact, been rising
    • The tracks between Siliguri and Alipurduar in North Bengal recorded 27 deaths between 1974 and 2002; this figure more than doubled to 65 between 2004 and 2015. 
    • Across India, average annual casualties jumped from nine during 2000-09 to 17 over the next seven years.

    Causes of Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC)

    • Shrinking Habitats: The expansion of the human population into or near areas inhabited by wildlife is leading to loss of natural habitat. The fragmentation has been bringing wild animals like elephants closer to human habitations, sparking these conflicts.
    • Loss of Crops: The crop damages at households and sites located along high-risk conflict-prone edges and transitional areas lead to rivalry among settlers and wild animals. Crops and property worth millions are damaged annually. Many animals are also killed in retaliation due to conflict.
    • Railway Tracks: Trains are actually a minor killer. For example, poisoning, poaching and electrocution together kill more than four times as many elephants. During 2009-16, 535 elephants died this way; during the same period, 120 were killed on the tracks.
    • Making way for growth: India’s Protected (forest) Areas cover 1,61,222 sq km, less than 5% of the country’s area. And yet, many see attempts to make these stretches no-go zones as an impediment to growth.

    Preventive Measures

    • Safeguarding the habitats: The government must work on restoring wild habitats, strengthening anti-poaching efforts and working with villages in critical wild animal corridors.
    • Compensation for crop damage: Utilising add-on coverage under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna for crop compensation against crop damage due to HWC and augmenting fodder and water sources within the forest areas are some key steps that can reduce HWC.
    • Other critical measures: These include mitigating man-wildlife conflict by creating physical barriers (solar fencing), providing interim relief schemes to forest dwellers to curb retaliatory killings, providing alternatives to village residents to reduce pressure on forest resources, evacuating people from illegally encroached forestlands, exploring and supporting alternative livelihood options and spreading awareness among villagers for animal protection.
    • Advisory for management of HWC: The Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife(SC-NBWL) in its 60th meeting approved the advisory for management of HWC in the country. The advisory makes important prescriptions for the States/ Union Territories for dealing with HWC situations and seeks expedited inter-departmental coordinated and effective actions.
    • Categorizing as Vermins: The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is planning to allow the legitimate hunting of wild animals such as blue bulls (nilgai) and wild boars to tackle man-animal conflict. However, animal welfare groups such as People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have expressed their concern over the ministry’s decision.

    Specific Measures to Avoid Elephant Killing

    • Development and maintenance of perennial water holes, solar-powered borewells etc.;
    • Creation of fodder plantations, bamboo planting/restocking;
    • Installation of hanging fences, solar-powered high electric fences,  rubble walls, community electric fences, concrete barriers, bio fences etc.;
    • Radio collaring for monitoring of problematic elephants, watchtower for tracking elephants, using drones for tracking etc.; 
    • Relocation of villages from elephant corridors or protected areas; and
    • Removal of elephants from human habitations or areas

    Way Ahead

    • To tackle such conflicts and avoid losses on both sides, it is important to strengthen the human-elephant coexistence through active management interventions by the State Forest Departments, involvement of various stakeholders and sensitization and generating awareness in local communities of forest fringe areas.
    • At the same time, the ecological balance cannot be restored through the barrel of a gun. The spirit of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is clear: it is to protect and preserve wildlife, so to label animals as “vermin” and kill them runs counter to all that this vital legislation stands for.

    National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) 

    • It is constituted as a statutory body by the Central Government under Section 5A of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA)
    • The Standing Committee of NBWL considers proposals after a series of levels of scrutiny and has recommendations of the State Chief Wildlife Warden, State Government and the State Board for Wildlife. 

    World Elephant Day

    • It is celebrated on August 12.
    • It is an international annual event, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants.  
    • The goal is to create awareness on elephant conservation and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better protection and management of wild and captive elephants.
    • The elephant is the Natural Heritage Animal of India and India also celebrates this day to spread awareness towards the conservation of the species.
    • Asian elephants are listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. The current population estimates indicate that there are about 50000 – 60000 Asian elephants in the world. More than 60 % of the population is held in India.
    • Indian Elephant has also been listed in Appendix I of the Convention of the Migratory species in the Conference of Parties of CMS 13 at Gandhi Nagar, Gujarat in February 2020

    Sources: TH