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13th February 2024 (9 Topics)

Escalating human-animal conflict in Kerala

Context

Wayanad is on the boil after a radio-collared wild elephant chased a 47-year-old man and trampled him to death, inside a gated property in a residential area. The tragedy brings to attention escalating human-animal conflict in the state.

Why human-wildlife conflict takes place in Kerala?

  • Large forest area: Forest covers nearly 30% of the State’s geographical area.

 Wayanad ‘s forests are a part of a greater forested area comprising Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Bandipur National Park, and BR Tiger Reserve in Karnataka, and Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Sathyamangalam Forest in Tamil Nadu.

  • Human settlements in close proximity to forests: For a relatively small State with an average width of just around 70 km and a population of more than 3.46 crore, this means numerous densely populated human settlements are located close to protected forest regions.
  • Agricultural plantation near wildlife habitat: Moreover, a large number of agricultural plantations too lie near wildlife habitats.
  • Other reasons:
    • significant increase in the population of animals like elephants and tigers due to conservation efforts
    • substantial increase in the population of prolific breeders like wild boars and peacocks
    • habitat depletion and fragmentation caused by human activities
    • invasive alien species have reduced the availability of food and water
    • movement of livestock and humans in wildlife habitats during odd hours

How severe is this conflict?

  • In recent years, Kerala has seen a sharp increase in the number of such incidents with those living near forest fringes suffering crores of rupees worth of damage to livelihood.
  • Government data for 2022-23 recorded 8,873 wild animal attacks, of which, 4193 were by wild elephants, 1524 by wild boars, 193 by tigers, 244 by leopards, and 32 by bison. Of 98 reported deaths, 27 were due to elephant attacks.
  • Beyond posing risk to humans, these attacks also devastated Kerala’s agriculture sector.
  • From 2017 to 2023, there were 20,957 incidents of crop loss due to wild animal raids which also killed 1,559 domestic animals, mainly cattle.
  • Wild elephants were involved in the highest number incidents in the State. Pachyderms were responsible for 14,611 incidents recorded between 2013-14 and 2018-19.
  • Wild boars (5,518), bonnet macaques (4,405) and snakes (2,531) are the others in this category.
  • Elephants, bonnet macaques and wild boars have caused the most damage to farmers residing in forest fringe areas.
  • Herbivores such as sambar, spotted deer and gaur too have contributed significantly to crop damage.

How Kerala is addressing the issue?

  • The state has several schemes meant to prevent animals from entering human settlements. These include
    • schemes for the construction of elephant-proof trenches
    • elephant-proof stone walls
    • solar powered electric fencing
  • To keep animals in forests, Kerala has also undertaken eco-restoration programmes. The state is also running a scheme to acquire land from farmers, to be then converted into forestland.
  • In areas which see the highest incidence of human-animal conflict, 15 Rapid Response Teams have also been established — eight permanent, and seven temporary. 25 new RRTs will be established in the coming years.

Government Measures:

  • National Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation Strategy and Action Plan of India: It is a guiding document facilitating a holistic approach to mitigate human-wildlife conflict (HWC), in an inclusive and sustainable manner.
  • Project Elephant: The scheme aimed at protecting and conserving elephants and their habitats in the country. It was launched in 1992.
  • Elephant reserves: Elephant Reserve is a management entity notified by the State Governments as per the recommendation of the Government of India.
    • There are 33 elephant reserves in India. Dandeli Elephant Reserve in Karnataka, Singphan Elephant Reserve in Nagaland, Agasthiyamalai Elephant Reserve in Tamil Nadu and Terai Elephant Reserve (Uttar Pradesh) are the most recent additions to India's Elephant Reserves.
  • Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016: It also assisted to develop wildlife habitats, establishing animal rescue centers, etc.
  • Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Programme - Mandated by the Conference of Parties (COP) resolution of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
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