The conflict between humans and animals is one of the main threats to the continued survival of many species in different parts of the world. It is also a significant threat to local human populations. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has defined human-wildlife conflict (HWC) as "any interaction between humans and wildlife that results in negative impacts on human, social, economic or cultural life, on the conservation of wildlife populations, or on the
environment." According to the World Conservation Union (World Parks Congress, Montreal, 2003), a conflict occurs when wildlife's requirements overlap with those of human populations, creating costs to residents and as well as wild animals. The direct human contact with wildlife occurs in both urban and rural areas. However, it is more common inside and around the protected areas, where wildlife population density is higher and where animals often stray into adjacent cultivated fields or grazing areas. The human-wildlife conflicts (HWC) pose a serious obstacle to wildlife conservation and the livelihoods of people worldwide. The HWCs have become more prevalent with increase in human population, expansion of developmental activities and global climate changes. These and other environmental factors have brought people and wildlife in direct competition for a limited shrinking resource base.
Types of Conflicts
The human-animal conflict can be broadly classified into four types :
(i) Competition for space
(ii) Crop raiding and destruction by wild animals
(iii) Attacking of the livestock
(iv) Injury or death of humans.
With the increasing human population and adoption of conservation laws, the competition for space has increased and overlapped over the years. The wildlife attacks by tigers, leopards, lions and bears on people and damage to the property can be often read in newspapers and seen in visual media. The crop raiding is another issue since the agriculture has been carried out by clearing off lands. The nutritious food is easily available to the wild animals in the form of crops. The livestock becomes victim in the absence of food or direct contact with each others. The most severe conflicts arise when the victims are humans themselves leading to even killings of those wild animals.
The HWCs have far reaching environmental impacts. The species most exposed to conflicts are also more prone to extinction. HWC has become a critical threat to the survival of many globally endangered species. The large and rare mammals such as the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae), the Asian lion (Panthera leo persica), the snow leopard (Uncia uncia) and the Red colobus monkey (Procolocus kirkii) are highly threatened these days. The numerous cases from countries all over the world demonstrate the severity of human-wildlife conflicts. Humans usually resort to intentional or retaliatory shooting or poisoning of wildlife in cases of conflicts. Such human-induced mortality affects the population viability of some of the most endangered species. This can have broader environmental impacts on ecosystem equilibrium and biodiversity preservation.
The HWCs also countermine the welfare, health and safety of humans. The humans have to face huge economic and social costs due to HWCs. The encounters with animals, exposure to zoonotic diseases and physical injury by large animals require financial resources for medical treatments. The human deaths caused by large animals even shatter the affected families. The wild animals stray into the inhabited areas and destroy the agricultural crops, orchards and other human installations leading to economic losses. The HWCs also have some negative social impacts like additional labour costs, fear, restriction of travel and loss of pets.
Reasons for Conflicts
Only 13 per cent of earth's surface belongs to the global network of protected areas according to the World Database on Protected Areas (2012). These areas are the last resort for many large and threatened mammals. The protected areas are mostly surrounded by human population. Due to unavailability of sufficient food, the animals come out of these areas and a conflict situation arises. Feeding the wild animals is another reason for the development of conflict situations. When people feed them, they tend to perceive humans as a source of food and become comfortable with humans. They do not treat humans as a threat and become dangerous over the time. The garbage heaps also contribute to the conflicts. The garbage in urban and rural areas attracts scavengers, like dogs and pigs, which are easy prey for leopards. The livestock is an easy source of food for large mammals like leopards as they do not have to go out and waste energy and time in hunting. The wildlife studies have shown that old, injured or displaced animals usually come into human territory in search of food and are the main reasons for HWCs. The displaced and translocated animals become more aggressive and often attack humans.
In India, densely populated human landscapes and wildlife habitats often overlap. The limited space and resources adversely affect both humans and wildlife. On an average, nearly 400 humans are killed annually by elephants while about 100 elephants are killed in retaliation. Various studies have estimated that in India, 50,000 human deaths occur every year due to human-snakes conflicts. About 1,000 people were reportedly killed by tigers every year in India during the early 1900s. Tigers killed 129 people in the Sundarbans mangrove forest from 1969-71. Leopards attacked and killed 170 humans in India during 1982-1989. Nearly 239 people were killed by them in Uttarakhand alone during 2000-2007. There is general reverence towards plants and animals in some Indian regions and religions, where people have become tolerant and do not persecute the wild animals. The man-monkey conflict is one such example. Hindus do not kill monkeys due to certain religious beliefs. Three Indian species, the Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), the Bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata) and the Hanuman langur have become urbanized today due to this reason or some additional contributing factors. The monkeys have developed less fear of humans and sometimes they become aggressive towards humans especially the children and ladies. In H.P., they are now treated as vermins. In the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary (Himachal Pradesh), 18% of the total livestock holdings were killed by carnivorous snow leopard and Tibetan wolf in 1995. The villagers had not resorted to killing the snow leopard, but retaliatory action was performed against the Tibetan wolf. The incidents of poisoning of peacocks and other birds have been reported frequently in Tamil Nadu. The farmers spread poison in the agricultural fields to prevent birds from attacking the crop, even though killing of national bird is prohibited under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act. The purple moorhen bird, which was not earlier found in the area, has been reported to damage the pokkali (an organic rice variety) crop in Kerala to the tune of 40%. This has made the farmers to incur heavy economic losses and posing a threat to crop cultivation. The Asian lion (Panthera leo persica) and leopard (Panthera pardus) use the extensive plantations of sugarcane and mango to find shelter and water in the proximity of Gir National Park and Sanctuary in Gujarat. They hunt on buffaloes, cows, pigs and dogs and also attack on farmers and labourers. The Bhadra Tiger Reserve in Karnataka hosts a large number of animals. It is surrounded by villages inhabited by nearly 3000 people. The tigers and leopards frequently resort to depredation and cause annual economic losses to the tune of 16% of the annual household income and 12% of the total family livestock holdings. The damage by elephants to the crops accounts for an average loss of 14% of the total annual production. About 107, 770 people (in 117 villages) live around Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. The wild herbivores of this region like Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) and wild boars (Sus scrofa) raid the crops and causes economic losses to the farmers to the tune of 50% annually. The sambar (Cervus unicolor), chital (Axis axis), common langur (Presbitys entellus), rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) and parakeets (Psittacula kremeri) also account for some crop losses. Tigers and leopards frequently attack the livestock.
The environmental, human health and safety, economic and social impacts of human-wildlife conflicts point that governments, wildlife managers, scientists and local communities should adopt measures to resolve the HWCs in the interest of humans and ecological equilibrium. A shift in the understanding of stakeholders is urgently needed to come out of the conflict situation. Only 4·87% area in India is under protected area network according to National Wildlife Database Cell, Wildlife Institute of India (2014). This needs to be increased if we expect our wildlife to be confined to only to the forests. The urban and rural areas are required to be kept clean to avoid human-animal conflicts. The villages and households in high risk areas are required to be educated on preventing and mitigating conflicts. A monitoring, live warning and information sharing system need to be established on such conflicts. Every effort should be made to promote co-existence between the wildlife in their natural habitats to prevent any negative interactions. The large carnivores look
for alternatives prey like livestock or humans only in the absence of their natural preys. Jammu and Kashmir government has involved the villagers in conflict mitigation in the state. The wildlife department has identified conflict zones and selected five youths from each zone to act as interface between people and the forest department. This has helped in easing tension and ensuring of people, property and the animals.
Thakur, Anil K. and Bassi, Susheel K. (2016). Environment Science. D. Dinesh & Co., Jalandhar (Punjab), 2016.