Man-Animal Conflicts

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    • Assam’s forest department is planning to collar at least five elephants in high-conflict habitats in the coming months.
      • It is being described as a step to study and mitigate human-elephant conflict in the state.

    What are Radio Collars?

    • Radio collars are GPS-enabled collars that can relay information about an elephants’ whereabouts. 
    • They weigh roughly 8 kg and are fitted around the elephant’s neck
    • Collaring includes identifying a suitable candidate (generally an adult elephant), darting it with a sedative, and fitting a collar around the elephant’s neck, before the animal is revived.
    • Additionally, the team also attaches an accelerometer to the collar to “understand what exactly an elephant is doing at any given time (running, walking, eating, drinking, etc)”.

    Challenges 

    • It is an extremely time-consuming and challenging exercise. 
    • All components for radio-collaring are not available in India, including collars and tranquilising drugs. 
      • These have to be imported and are quite expensive.
    • The state’s topography too, marked by hills and rivers, including the Brahmaputra that runs across it, can be a challenge. 
    • Many times elephants are not able to keep the collar on. They will have it on for a maximum of six months before it falls off.
      • There may be technical glitches with the device too.

    Human-elephant conflict in Assam

    • From 2010-2019, 761 people and 249 elephants were killed in Assam as a direct consequence of human-elephant conflict.
    • More than 65 per cent of the habitat north of the river has been lost in the past few decades to agriculture and settlements, and conflict between humans and elephants has been steadily increasing ever since.

    Elephants in India

    • About:
      • According to the last count in 2017, there were 29,964 elephants in India. This is a slight increase from 2012’s mean of 29,576 elephants.
    • Threats:  
      • Habitat loss, fragmentation, human-elephant conflict, poaching and illegal trade of elephants.
    • Asian Elephants:
      • They are polygynous, with males and females exhibiting different morphologies and adult lifestyles.
      • They are the largest land mammals on the Asian continent. 
      • Asian elephants are extremely sociable, forming groups of six to seven related females that are led by the oldest female, the matriarch.
      • It lives in forested regions of India and throughout Southeast Asia, including Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.
      • There are three subspecies of Asian elephants which are the Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan.
      • IUCN Status: 
        • Endangered
      • Protection: 
        • It is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
        • It is included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
      • Status in India: 
        • India is home to the largest number of Asiatic Elephants. There are around 28,000 elephants in India with around 25% of them in Karnataka.
    • African Elephants
      • There are two subspecies of African elephants, the Savanna (or bush) elephant and the Forest elephant.
      • IUCN Status: 
        • African forest elephant: Critically Endangered
        • African savanna elephant: Endangered

    Other threats posed to Elephant Population

    • Poaching: 
      • The demand for ivory leads to the illegal poaching of both African and Asian elephants.
      •  Elephants are also poached for meat, leather, and body parts with the illegal wildlife trade putting elephants increasingly in danger.
    • Habitat loss:
      • The loss of habitat due to deforestation increases in mining and agricultural activities has become problematic, especially for Asian elephants.
      •  The fragmentation of habitat also creates isolation and this makes breeding more difficult.
    • Human-elephant conflict
      • It is a significant concern, as human populations increase and forest cover decreases, forcing elephants into close proximity with human settlements.
      • Incidents include crop damage and economic losses, as well as both elephant and human casualties.
        • Between 2015 and 2020, nearly 2,500 people have lost their lives in elephant attacks across India out of which about 170 human fatalities have been reported in Karnataka alone.
    • Mistreatment in captivity
      • A lack of legislation regarding the care and treatment of elephants in zoos, circuses, and tourism often leads to their mistreatment.
      • Captivity can be a serious threat to elephants, and Asian elephants are often illegally captured in the wild and trafficked into the lucrative tourism industry.

    Government Initiatives:

    • Portal on Human-Elephants Conflict 
      • The National Portal on human-elephant conflict is called “Surakshya” for the collection of real-time information & also for managing the conflicts on a real-time basis.
      • It will help to set the data collection protocols, data transmission pipelines and data visualization tools to enable policy-makers to leverage HEC data for policy formulation and for preparation of Action Plans for mitigation of conflicts.
    • Project Elephant (PE)
      • It was launched in 1992 to provide financial and technical support to major elephant bearing States in the country for the protection of elephants, their habitats and corridors.
      • It is a centrally sponsored scheme and seeks to address the issues of human-elephant conflict and the welfare of domesticated elephants.
    • Use of LiDAR technology 
      • The government is using LiDAR technology in order to provide fodder and water augmentation in forest areas so that animals will get food and water in forest areas and will not come outside.
    •  Project RE-HAB
      • Under this Project, bee boxes will be used as a fence to prevent the attack of elephants.
      • The bee boxes are set up in the passageways of human-elephant conflict zones to block the entrance of elephants to human habitations.
    • Elephant corridors and reserve:  Elephant corridors are secured through voluntary relocation of settlements and/or acquisition of land.
    • Gaj Yatra Nationwide campaign:  To create awareness about elephant corridors to encourage free movement in their habitat.
    • Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme: It was launched in 2003, is an international collaboration that tracks trends in information related to the illegal killing of elephants from across Africa and Asia, to monitor the effectiveness of the field conservation efforts.
    • Operation Thunderbird: To fight against wildlife crime, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, coordinated “OPERATION THUNDERBIRD” in India.

    More Measures Need to be Taken in this context 

    • Improvement of habitat: In-situ and ex-situ habitat conservation measures will help in securing animals their survival.
      • Re-locating animal habitats away from residential and commercial centres will serve to minimize animal-man conflict for illegal and self-interested motives.
    • Surveillance– Increased vigilance and protection of identified locations using hi-tech surveillance tools like sensors can help in tracking the movement of animals and warn the local population.
    • Awareness Programmes: To create awareness among people and sensitize them about the Dos and Don’ts in the forest areas.
    • Training programs: Training to the police offices and local people should be provided for this purpose and the forest department should frame guidelines.
    • Improve enforcement policies: There is a need to improve enforcement policies for preventing the illegal poaching and trade of ivory and conserving elephant habitats and better treatment for captive elephants. 

    Source: IE