‘Identify hotspots to track man-animal conflicts’

‘Identify hotspots to track man-animal conflicts’

Rising incidences of man-animal conflicts have pitted people against nature, forcing many to take extreme positions. While some want to cull even elephants and tigers, others say humans have no moral right to kill these creatures, whose homelands man had encroached over the years. Environmentalist R Sridhar, an engineer by training, has been researching issues related to environmental health and justice. He says collaboration with local governments, empowerment of people living close to forests, and starting people’s protection forces can help. Excerpts from an interview:

There has been an increase in man-animal conflicts in Kerala and this has put the farming community’s lives and livelihood under severe stress. What are the reasons for this?

The impact of man-animal conflicts on the farmers and communities living near the forests has escalated to dangerous levels, both for human and wildlife populations as well as for the safety and integrity of forest and forest-dwelling communities. Many reasons go way back to the historical issues of diverting forest lands for habitats and commercial purposes, such as for the various paper and pulp industries, migration, and encroachments, and converting forests to teak and tea plantations that started way back with the British and the erstwhile kingdoms of Kerala. But much of these intrusions continued with or without legal backing throughout the 20th century putting great stress on the natural growth of the various ecosystems within the Western Ghats region, and on the habitats and movements of wildlife. What we are seeing today is a cumulative and consequential impact of such massive land use change. The climate crisis may also have had an impact on the behavior of wildlife. Added to this is the frustration of the farming community who are also not just facing threats from wildlife but also from climate-related issues. The stress is hence severe and needs solutions and intervention that can tackle the issue in a crisis mode.

As a person who was part of a team of farmers in Thirunelly that did organic farming for years, what was your first-hand experience and how difficult it is for the farmers to do farming, especially in the eco-sensitive zones of the Western Ghats?

From the context of human-animal conflicts, which is not the same as farming in an eco-sensitive zone, the crisis is as I said serious. But the fact is that there are many regions in Wayanad, where the conflict is not that serious. Hence, one of the first things needed is to create an impact map from studies and reporting of incidents and casualties. Such a map should be able to tell us about hotspots, seasons of impact, the main wild animals reported in those hotspots, the frequency of attacks, and other important information. This would help make areaspecific plans for resolving the conflict.

Thaneer Komban was chased by forest officials (and the mob) in a skewed strategy, and it led to the death of the hapless elephant. A section of the farmer’s lobby feels that there has been a huge increase in tigers and elephants, and that is the root problem. What is your view?

Perception and baseless data cannot be the basis of any opinion or conclusion. Moreover, reliable data that is in reference to historical data should also be interpreted objectively in context and not subjectively. We will not get anywhere throwing data at each other, as is being done so recklessly on social media and managed stage programmes. Moreover, stakeholders are highly polarized and deafeningly so. Organizations like the Kerala Independent Farmers’ Association, supposedly speaking for the affected farmers, do great injustice to them by running campaigns that are extremist in nature and illegal as well, when they call for the killing of elephants and tigers that can otherwise be captured and secured. On the other hand, animal lovers retaliate with counter-campaigns, and the media makes superheroes out of these animals. The hapless forest department, which has abysmally poor systems and facilities to handle such issues, finds itself on the receiving end.

Do you feel that agencies like the state wildlife board and pollution control board should be more proactive and pressurize the government to find sustainable solutions?

I believe that consecutive govts in Kerala have failed to address the issue. If you look at the present govt, the forest minister has been a total failure. Some initiative was taken to study the issue, but nothing seems to have come out of it. One agency that should intervene in this matter is the statutory Kerala wildlife board with the CM as the chairperson. It has in the last two years been turned into a worthless body, again something unprecedented. The previous board had very articulate and active members like Sugathakumari, who would not take any of these issues lightly. But today, it is as good as dead.

When it comes to envisaging a comprehensive policy, all political parties seem to backtrack. The govt and opposition parties do not seem to have learned any lesson post Kerala floods and the pandemic…

Apart from making irrelevant noise that only has political intentions, no political party seems to even want to understand the issue, let alone solve it. Very few states have such an effectively organized, decentralized system of governance that would help us build a harmonious solution. What is needed immediately is a separate section or division of the forest department to handle human-wild animal conflict in such hotspot areas. They should be provided with special forces and adequate systems and equipment.

Collaboration with local govts, empowerment and skilling of people living close to forests, people’s protection forces to protect farmlands, participation of MGNREGA workers, provision for trenches, electric fencing, surveillance teams in critical times, and skill development for people are what we need. An integrated, participatory approach is imperative. The wildlife board should monitor and ensure effective implementation.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


‘Identify hotspots to track man-animal conflicts’

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