Conflict between people and animals, from China’s famed wandering elephants raiding farms for food and water to wolves preying on cattle in Idaho, USA, is one of the main threats to the long-term survival of some of the world’s most emblematic species, warns a new report from WWF and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), released on Monday.
The report titled ‘A future for all – the need for human-wildlife coexistence’, highlights that globally, conflict-related killing affects more than 75% of the world’s wild cat species, as well as many other terrestrial and marine carnivore species such as polar bears and Mediterranean monk seals and large herbivores such as elephants.
In India, data from the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change indicates that over 500 elephants were killed between 2014-2015 and 2018-2019, most related to human-elephant conflict. During the same period, 2,361 people were killed as a result of conflict with elephants.
Being the second most populated country in the world, India faces urgent problems of human-wildlife conflict that must be addressed to achieve a socially just form of conservation. India’s elephants probably embody the problem the best.
The report says that completely eradicating human-wildlife conflict is not possible but that well-planned, integrated approaches to managing it can reduce conflicts and lead to a form of coexistence between people and animals.
An example of this can be seen in Sonitpur District, Assam, where large-scale deforestation & degradation were driving increases in elephant crop-raiding that led to accidental human deaths and retaliatory killing of elephants.
WWF India during 2003-2004 developed the Sonitpur Model by which community members were connected with the state Forest Department and given training on how to work with them to drive elephants away from crop fields safely and human habitations. WWF India further built on these institutions by developing a low-cost, single strand, non-lethal electric fence to ease the guarding of crops from elephants.
In some situations, the results have been significant. In the Gohpur area of Biswanath district, some 212 ha of crops were being lost annually to elephants before these interventions in 2015—at which point crop losses dropped to zero for four years running. Human and elephant deaths have also reduced significantly from what it was during the beginning of this project.
The report also highlights how accelerated habitat fragmentation and land-use change shape how, where and how much humans and wildlife interact in India’s densely populated landscapes – highlighting both possibilities and limits of tolerance and space-sharing.
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