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Wild animals that bear the brunt of conflicts

Gana Kedlaya Jan 8 2018, 20:50 IST
Karnataka is prone to several human-animal conflicts, especially cases involving sloth bears, leopards and elephants. DH PHOTO

Karnataka is prone to several human-animal conflicts, especially cases involving sloth bears, leopards and elephants. DH PHOTO

My friend who owns a small piece of land on the outskirts of Tumakuru is not new to the world of human-wildlife interactions. He respects wild animals, has been involved in many rescues himself, and is sensitive to their needs and space. But what he has been observing over the last few months makes him anxious. "I would spot sloth bears on farmlands at least thrice a week. We would often hear and witness villagers chasing, screaming and pelting stones at sloth bears. The animosity is very real. There is a growing intolerance towards leopards and bears here."

This is not a fresh narrative - we have been reading and witnessing such interactions across India. In particular, more unpleasant stories have emerged from Hassan, Tumakuru and Ramanagara districts this past year. While discussing the issue with Kartick Satyanarayan, the co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SoS, an organisation that has been instrumental in rescuing and providing lifetime care for over 100 sloth bears, the issue of 'conflict' stands out. And, the stories that emerge are not pleasant.

Grim realities

Take for example some of these few incidents. In January 2017, a female sloth bear was critically injured after consuming an explosive device set up as bait by poachers in Chikoppa village located in Kanakapura taluk. She did not make it. In May 2017, a male sloth bear was found in the outskirts of a village located in Chikkamagaluru. The bomb had exploded in the bear's mouth, cracking its skull internally and there were hundreds of bone splinters embedded inside his mouth. He too did not make it.

In the same month, a female sloth bear and her two young cubs were found trapped inside a 20-foot deep dry well near Tumakuru. The mother bear succumbed to injuries and starvation. The cubs, identified as a male and a female made it after being rescued by the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre (BBRC) run by Wildlife SOS. In August 2017, the team successfully rescued and released a wild sloth bear cub trapped in a barbed wire near Koratagere village. In November 2017, two more young sloth bear cubs caught in poacher's snares were rescued.

There are several such grim stories of mortality around us, but so are narratives of faith, commitment and devotion that find their bearing in the world of rescue - like the team at Wildlife SoS, which continues to strive hard to change such tragic incidents to one of hope.

Rescues give a fair picture of the state of wild animals in a given geographical area. None of these SoS calls bear any good news. "We definitely saw an increase in number of cases in 2017 compared with 2016. Our team rescued six wild sloth bears in 2017 in Karnataka that were either severely injured, caught in human-animal conflict or had fallen prey to poacher's snares and explosives used for hunting," exclaims Kartick.

Not all the bears or leopards rescued are released back into the wild. For example, a female sloth named Hamsi with a bullet wound was rescued from Bandipur. Hamsi, today, is friendly with her keeper and has made friends with fellow rescued bears. But not all that are rescued are as lucky, as most don't make it owing to grievous injuries. In Karnataka, places like Tumakuru and Ramanagara have been quite nightmarish for wildlife and humans
alike.

Getting Worse

Incidents of wildlife-human interactions have increased and continue to get worse. Kartick seconds the fact, "Karnataka is prone to several human-animal conflicts, especially cases involving sloth bears and leopards. Over the years there has been an increase in such incidents as a result of a variety of factors including habitat
encroachment, rapid deforestation, poaching and depletion of natural prey base. We have rescued several animals in the Ramanagara area in the past. In 2016, we rescued a sloth bear injured after consuming a country-made explosive, another bear that had fallen into a 20 feet deep well and a 15-month old leopard from an uncovered water tank."

Talking about the reasons behind these recurring incidents, he adds, "The primary causes we have observed over the years include animals that are caught or involved in human-wildlife conflict situations and poaching incidents. Poaching ranks quite high on the list as we often rescue animals that have fallen prey to poacher's snares and explosives used for hunting. Uncovered wells pose a major threat to the safety of wild animals residing in close proximity to human habitations."

The locals don't have it easy either - from loss of livelihood, to threat to life, the challenges are too many. But awareness programmes and constant engagement with locals do pay off, says Kartick. "Our team has been working closely with local communities to educate people, especially those living in human-wildlife conflict zones, about using techniques for avoiding and resolving conflicts as well as encouraging responsible community participation in various conservation initiatives. Over the years, we have witnessed positive responses from the communities, especially from the young generations who are keen to learn more about conservation and respecting the wildlife that reside in close proximity to their homes."

In the month of November 2017 alone, the team rescued three sloth bears that were caught in deadly hunting traps. "In all three cases, local communities were quite supportive and were quick to report the incidents to the Forest Department and Wildlife SOS. As a result of the awareness programmes that we conduct across villages in the region, we have noticed a positive change in the general attitude of the public towards wildlife," he adds.

Although the barbaric practice of dancing bears is a thing of the past, the situation for wildlife living closer to human habitat remain dire. While the attempts at finding long-term sustainable solutions continue, its rescues such as these, done on everyday basis, that add value to the phrase 'every individual matters', human or not!

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