Conflict control

Conflict control

There have been plenty human-animal conflicts in the past. Despite having sufficient knowledge, resources and the wherewithal to take up measures to keep conflict at bay, we haven’t been able to control it. Why are we letting history repeat itself, asks Madhumitha B

Human-wildlife encounters are not new to Karnataka. Over the past couple of decades, the State has been witness to several such occurrences and going by the recurrence of such encounters, the obvious reaction would have been to establish a sound system that can accurately handle such challenges or better yet, avoid them from taking place as much as possible.

The fact that this State, like a few other wildlife divisions across the country, continues to struggle with conflict management raises several questions on the functioning of the government when it comes to issues concerning forest and wildlife conservation. For one, why aren’t resources being pumped into aggressive measures to keep conflict at bay? The financial strength for forest management is anything but a weak one. The effort, both monetary and intellectual, should be to shield sensitive zones from further conflict. The science for this is in abundance. Why aren’t the recommendations, given by committees set up by the government themselves, being implemented?

Huge sums of money and manpower are being wasted in filing reports and developing analysis and for what? Nothing, feel ecologists. Unfortunately, the situation of conflict management in Karnataka is largely a disappointing one. And veterans in wildlife biology say that there has to be an admission that not much is being done to counter conflict. How much longer then before there is even the slightest bit of perseverance to execute solutions?

The recent situation in Sarjapur area of Bangalore when a herd of elephants was found in an urban environment is both similar to and different from other such incidents that take place in rural areas. Similar because of the extremely close proximity of a species of wildlife to human beings and different because it occurred in an area that is not connected to the path the pachyderms take apart from the fact that Bángalore has not witnessed such an encounter in over two centuries and that gives it reason enough to study this incident as a separate one, felt Thomas Mathew, Trustee, Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF).

There are lives at stake here. Both of humankind and wildlife. And as Prof R Sukumar, Professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science puts it, the longer the time taken to implement solutions, the longer the problem persists. Regarding the incident in Bangalore, Prof Sukumar emphasises on the possibility of natural climatic conditions that have caused these elephants to tread new paths.

“The droughts last year could have easily led to scarcity of food and water across the country. Such conditions can cause the elephants to enter completely new grounds in search of food,” he said. Not ruling out habitat fragmentation, Prof Sukumar also highlights that along with loss of elephant corridors as a result of several projects, including many mini hydel plans along with change in land-use pattern outside forest areas, scarcity of food is the additional stress factor for these pachyderms.

Commenting on the incident in Bangalore, Mathew of ANCF said that there has to be more work done in order to be able to even respond scientifically. For now, he says that there are more than a few reasons for such incidents to escalate into conflict. Crowd control is one and maybe it plays a large part in determining the consequence of such occurrences. The huge gathering of people, except for the concerned forest force, is a huge risk and poses an immense, almost formidable challenge to ensure that the elephants go back into the forests.

“There is still no organised method to keep the general population of people at a safe distance or evacuate them from the area. This in itself is half the job done. As for the elephants, a hands-off policy is best  unless human lives are at stake. Intervention, in the form of driving them back or bursting fire crackers, especially in a complex urban situation, in an attempt to scare them away, is really counter productive as it only adds to their stress and trauma and sometimes disintegrates the herd, creating panic and disorientation and when this happens, the elephants could be forced into a corner, leaving them no option but to strike back. Instead, when left alone, they will simply go back to the forests from where they came. Additionally, we are not equipped to do this (intervention) in a humane way and hence it is best left as the last resort.”

A wild animal is just that. Wild and existing independently of human activities. Not to be confused with a lack of any sensibility or intelligence or even cognitive behaviour. They have them all and maybe more than we give them credit for, but there needs to be a much better understanding of the fact that they aren’t in any respect objects of entertainment for the public. It can be a life-threatening situation if, in such occurrences of close encounters, the situation went out of control. If one encounters a wild animal, there is only one thing to do — safely back away as far as possible and the animal will respect your decision. But no. Common sense never prevails when such occurrences happen, be it in rural areas or, more recently, in urban settings in Karnataka.

And while the conservation concerns are high, there is still a gaping hole in the way such encounters are handled. Crowd control management and common sense among the civil society is becoming a serious concern and lapses in both are in no way enabling a sensible reaction to sort such issues. Wildlife biologists also reiterate the severe lacunae in wildlife conservation management in Karnataka making the people involved in conflict management totally incapacitated during an emergency such as the one witnessed in Bangalore recently. This, despite immense research done in the area right here in Karnataka that details out solutions and methodologies that can be put in place. If only there is the will to do so.

What is imperative, feel ecologists, is to have a clear and definite map of elephant corridors across the State. Further, sensitive zones need to be highlighted and intensive work must be done in all these areas to minimise conflict. Fences and barriers should be put up with a clear knowledge of elephant paths. A multi-pronged approach is what is necessary, the ecologists opine.

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