Rate of Human-Wildlife Conflict in India Has Researchers Making Urgent Appeals for Solutions

 

Researchers in India are calling for measures to improve human-wildlife conflict management across the country after a study revealed the frequency with which clashes between animals and people are resulting in property damage, injury, and even death.

Researchers in India are calling for measures to improve human-wildlife conflict management across the country after a study revealed the frequency with which clashes between animals and people are resulting in property damage, injury, and even death.

Human-wildlife conflicts are typically the result of growing human populations encroaching ever-further into established wildlife territory. Once they find themselves competing directly with humans for dwindling resources, wild animals are known to raid the crop fields or livestock pens kept by humans, resulting in confrontations that can have severe negative consequences for people and animals alike.

Between 2011 and 2014, Dr. Krithi Karanth, a conservation scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Sahila Kudalkar, a research associate with the Centre for Wildlife Studies, led a team that surveyed 5,196 families from 2,855 villages adjacent to 11 different wildlife reserves in western, central, and southern India. The researchers wanted to examine how frequently those families experience conflicts with wildlife and how they go about mitigating the impacts of those confrontations.

“Combined with high poverty, and low awareness regarding government compensation, such families may be most vulnerable to impacts of wildlife damage upon their livelihoods,” Kudalkar said in a statement. She and Karanth have detailed their findings in a study published in the journal Human Dimensions of Wildlife this week.

The researchers found that 71 percent of households surveyed have lost crops to wild animals, 17 percent have lost livestock, and three percent have had human injury or death result from a run-in with wildlife. Average crop losses amount to 12,559 Indian rupees (about $194) every year per family, while livestock losses totaled an average of 2,883 Indian rupees (about $44).

These losses do not represent an insignificant portion of India’s rural economy, the researchers note, given that the majority of the population has a monthly income of less than 5,000 Indian rupees (about $77).

In order to protect their crops, livestock, and other property, these rural families employ about a dozen different mitigation techniques, Karanth and Kudalkar found, with night watches, scare devices, and fences being the most commonly reported. But some households are more proactive in deploying these tactics than others. The researchers found that families with a history of livestock loss going back more than 20 years or experience with losing crops going back 10 to 20 years were, understandably, more likely to use mitigation measures, for instance.

Families near reserves in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, states with high incidence of human-wildlife conflicts resulting in property damage and states that also happen to provide the highest levels of compensation payments in all of India, were most likely to use mitigation techniques. Families in Rajasthan, by contrast, were the least likely to employ measures to protect their crops and property.

Tallying these losses and understanding the methods used to mitigate the impacts of human-wildlife conflict is crucial to designing better policies to deal with the problem, Karanth and Kudalkar write in the study: “Investments in conflict mitigation should consider the history, location, species, socioeconomic variations among households, and differences in regional policies.”

But, according to Karanth, there may be better ways to address the problem than simply seeking to mitigate its impacts. She and Kudalkar are calling for more effective prevention techniques to be identified, existing compensation schemes to be strengthened, and greater dialogue between local communities, governments, and conservationists in the interest of improving India’s human-wildlife conflict management programs.

“Resolving human-wildlife conflict requires revisiting the goals of conservation policies and investments by people and organizations,” she said. “This is especially true with respect to effort and money deployed associated with mitigation and protection. People may be better served by deploying early warning, compensation and insurance programs rather than by focusing heavily on mitigation.”

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