Save forests to avoid man-animal conflict

Man-animal conflicts are assuming worrying proportions across India. In Karnataka, for instance, their consequences were bloodier in 2015 than in previous years. Around 21 people lost their lives in attacks by wild animals; most of them were crushed to death by elephants. Several wild animals were killed too. Two leopards and a tiger — all suspected man-eaters — were shot dead by forest officials. Official figures reveal a higher number of deaths in some other states. In 2014, Maharashtra topped the list of number of human lives lost in such conflicts; 106 people were killed in attacks by wild animals. Odisha and Assam followed with 92 and 74 deaths, respectively. However, the number of human deaths in man-animal face-offs doesn’t capture the full picture. Many more are injured in these attacks. Take Jammu and Kashmir, for instance. Fourteen people were killed and 211 injured in man-animal conflicts last year. Besides, the large number of animals that are mowed down by speeding trains and vehicles, electrocuted or quietly beaten to death in remote villages are not usually recorded.

Man-animal conflicts have surged because of shrinking forest cover. Deforestation and extension of human habitation into forests is forcing animals to stray into human settlements. The wanton destruction of forests must end if we are keen to prevent man-animal conflict. It is heartening that shooting down of man-eaters is not the first option for forest officials anymore. They are tranquilizing them and sending them to zoos, although sometimes they compelled to kill man-eaters as villagers bay for their blood.
Increasingly, forest officials are trans-locating troublesome big cats. But experts point out that this strategy simply shifts the conflict to another area.

Just as fear and ignorance prompt human beings to kill wild animals in their vicinity, most wild animals attack people in self-defence. Wild cats prowl in villages not because they relish human blood but because injury or age has reduced their capacity to hunt. Man-animal conflict can be reduced by educating people about animal behaviour and providing them with protocols on how to react to an approaching wild animal. For instance, the mere sight of a snake is enough to evoke terror, although most snakes are harmless. Teaching people to identify a snake species will go a long way in preventing the
senseless slaughter of snakes. Studies show that most leopard attacks in the Garhwal region happen early morning or evening when people go into the forest to relieve themselves. Building toilets inside the home will reduce the vulnerability of people to leopard attacks.

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