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Live and let live

Madhumitha B, Dec 4, 2012

Human-ANIMAL CONFLICT

In harmony Experts suggest that drawing clear boundaries for animal and human habitation is vital. (Photo by the author)

The idea of man and the wild co-existing in the same space is a scenario only under ideal conditions. If that was the reality, if neither of the two faced any serious danger from one another, then most of today’s challenges of conservation would simply disappear. However, it can no longer be truly believed that such a kind of existence is possible without conflict, writes Madhumitha B.

‘Co-existence or no existence.’ This is the belief that is prevalent in many parts of the country’s reserve forests even today and several lives depend on this concept that is the result, sometimes, of actual evidence but often based on foreign reasoning that understands welfare with little or no knowledge of the ground reality.

While it is a noble thought, the definition of co-existence needs serious rethinking. We need to break away from the notion of what is believed to be ‘living in harmony’ with nature because much of it has lost its character today.

The idea of man and the wild co-existing in the same space could be the ideal situation in some forests. And if that was the reality, if neither of the two faced any serious danger from one another, then most of today’s challenges of conservation would simply disappear. However that is not the case.

It can no longer be truly believed that such a kind of existence is even possible without daily encounters and conflict, especially in a country such as India where space is a huge constraint.


Praveen Bhargav, former member - National Board for Wildlife, and Trustee - Wildlife First, looks at it from a realistic point of view when he illustrates this conundrum so as to understand the magnitude of the challenge. He explains it thus:

Take Nagarahole for example. In a 600-sq-km park, you cannot have 6,000 people living ‘harmoniously’ with 60 tigers and 600-plus elephants and with a market for forest produce just six kilometres away. Are these forests going to expand and support the growing population of people and their increasing need for resources?

“Co-existence is bound to fail here because with time, neither will the local communities have access to enough resources for sustainable livelihoods nor can wildlife live with such market-driven extractions.

The intensity and volume of extraction will definitely rise with increasing market demands and doubling of human populations which will just not be sustainable.

Therefore, we must insulate our wildlife reserves from the developmental needs of the urban rich as well as the livelihood needs of the local communities which, however, must be addressed through incentive-driven voluntary resettlements.” 

Expressing similar views, Executive Director of Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF) Thomas Mathew adds that while the issue is also a natural resources problem, it is more of a human problem in the context of constant conflict. He added, “In most cases of rehabilitation, conflict is among the underlying reasons for them to want to shift out of the core areas. Life can be difficult for this community when it has to constantly face conflict.”

Rehabilitation of tribes

This realisation is what has made rehabilitation of tribes from within core reserve forests a necessity. It is not merely for the protection of biodiversity but a humanitarian move that is looking to provide various tribes an opportunity to move forward in the way they see fit for themselves and without struggling to overcome everyday challenges.

The fact is that many members of these communities themselves express their aspiration as ones similar to that of a town or city dweller, according to several experts in the field of both wildlife conservation as well as tribal welfare.

This community is integrated into the cash economy and is exposed to all things in present-day life such as modern medicines and transport and aspire to get quality education and employment for their children.

There seems to be no reason to keep them from taking up this opportunity, believe several think-tanks.

In Karnataka, there has been successful rehabilitation of tribes over the past few years and there is interest among several communities living in these forests to move out and become part of the rest of society.

Just as no solution can be entirely fool-proof until it has been perfected over time, there are issues with resettlement as well. What stands in the way of this measure, at times making it appear like yet another indifferent policy under the guise of welfare, however, is bureaucracy that is entangled both in red tapism and corruption, social activism that refuses to break away from the beliefs that are monopolised by a single-point agenda or the apprehension of starting afresh in a different world.

All of these are real problems but not impossible to overcome.Separate spaces, separate livesWhat can make this a highly successful welfare measure is to build a solid social infrastructure system around the resettlement concept, stated Mathew who added, “Building schools, hospitals, transport systems and providing basic necessities such as land and water is essential in the whole rehabilitation process.

It has to be a humane approach rather than bureaucratic.” Additionally, Bhargav believes that such an initiative cannot be taken up by the government alone. “Not-for-profit organisations and activists must intensively work with communities and hand-hold them (tribal people) till they fully settle down outside.

If a good, site-specific resettlement package offered by the government is delivering a better quality of life and it is voluntarily accepted, shouldn’t it be supported?” he questioned. The concept of living alongside nature and its inhabitants is an old one and even if it never was entirely harmonious in the true sense of the word, the give and take relationship may have worked at some point in the bygone era.

Now, peaceful co-existence is largely a whimsical notion that can no longer hide the reality that the two species are finding it tougher and tougher to co-habitate in the same space.

Australian moral philosopher Pete Singer has said this in the context of conservation and animal welfare, “We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics.”

To live and let live, in this context, is only possible by clearly demarcating the boundary between man and wildlife. They have to lead separate lives in separate spaces. It is a necessary step for conservation of the dignity of life, of both man and wildlife.

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