Man-animal conflict occurs when wild animals pose a direct threat to human livelihood and safety. Usually this leads to persecution of that species, be it tigers, leopards, elephants and even wild boars. This conflict is one of the main threats to the continued survival of many species and is also a threat to local human population. Every other day in India we hear about animals attacking humans.
Thanks to unbridled development and encroachment of once lush green spaces that were originally animal habitats, people and animals are increasingly coming into conflict over living space and food — the more the forests shrink, the more the man-animal conflict.
While a large urban population is mostly unaware about the impact of such a conflict, people who live on the fringes of forests bear the brunt. So much so that wild animals — in search of food and water — freely attack humans and their livestock on the forest fringes and newly formed areas after cutting down the greenery.
Competition for space
The conflict that occurs when growing human populations overlap with established wildlife territory thereby creating competition for space and resources. This results in a negative impact on people, animals, resources and habitats. Urbanisation and industrialisation have led to diversion of forest land to non-forest purposes even on peripheries of protected areas and green belts. This in turn results in increasing pressure on limited natural resources in the forests, says avid wildlife photographer from Mysuru M.K. Mukesh.
The national animal
Though tigers killing humans, leopards preying on livestock and elephant raiding crops are commonly discussed issues, the topic gains prominence and media attention when a tiger kills a human being or if a tiger dies due to the conflict. But the attention is minimum when a leopard or a wild elephant attacks humans.
Tiger is India’s national animal and there are many stakeholders when it comes to tigers. Thanks to strict rules and widespread conservation efforts, it creates a furore when a tiger is killed. Or even when humans are killed.
Such tigers are classified as ‘man eaters’ and either they are shot dead or captured only to be housed in a zoo. Very rarely are they released back into the forests as they have already tasted human blood and very well know that humans and livestock are easy prey.
A tiger kills only if it is necessary. Once it makes a kill, it consumes about 25 to 30 kilos of meat and the remaining part of the carcass is closely guarded until it is hungry again — usually after 2-3 days. Moreover, a tiger does not have any preferential taste or diet on its menu.
It is estimated that about 28 percent India’s tiger population lives outside or on the fringes of ‘real’ forest that is outside notified and protected areas. This is because the territory once they occupied and ruled is now under human habitation, thanks to encroachments.
Tiger being territorial and solitary in nature — except during mating season and their motherhood periods — roam freely
in the large expanse of their territory which may range between 5 to 10 square kilometres, scent marking and expanding the same.
They spray their urine on trees to advertise their presence in that particular territory. Simultaneously they look out for food. During hunt, a tiger might come across humans inside forests or on the fringes.
In such a situation, the hungry tiger might prey on the human. Who is at fault? Who is the intruder here? And who has to be blamed here? For reasons best known to man, the tiger always is the culprit. Of course, there are exceptional cases where a man has been killed by a tiger outside forest area bordering village. Mainly, these cases have to be debated and a suitable solution has to be found.
No limits for greed
Growing human population and his greed is the main reason for encroachments of forest land and its fragmentation. Every individual wishes to own a piece of land. At every such instance, the resident tiger loses a chunk of its territory.
Competition and territoriality force certain tigers to leave protected areas, especially youngsters seeking to establish their own territories and injured or old animals desperate for food.
Too much of human movement in forest land is forcing the prey base of the tiger to move away from its territory. Absence of prey animals and hunger forces the feline to equate humans with its prey. For a tiger, it is just flesh and blood — no other distinction.
Over 200 humans have been killed by tigers in India in the last 4 to 5 years. Only a science-based tiger management with a special emphasis on conservation of prey species will reduce human kills.
Leopards and human populace
If tigers are solitary animals, leopards are highly adaptable. They can survive by just feeding on small mammals. They try to survive close to human habitat, often without the knowledge of people living close by.
As it is more often found, leopards give birth in a sugarcane field because it provides a safe shield for cubs. During harvest season, people find such vulnerable cubs. The mother would have ventured out in search of food.
But the common notion is that the mother leopard has abandoned her cubs. This is not true. Animals take good care of their offspring. The leopard is sure to return to her cubs. But there are many instances of people killing lactating leopards, leaving her cubs vulnerable. Most of the times cubs will not survive without their mother.
A leopard cannot differentiate between a farmland and a forest land. We humans should adopt ‘live and let live’ policy. Leopards often look for easy prey. Their eyesight being extremely good at night. They feed on dogs or livestock in human habitat. They may even attack a child or even an adult.
Normally people lay a snare or a jaw trap to capture the feline. They might even poison half eaten carcass expecting the leopard to come back to finish off the incomplete meal. This way, Mother Nature loses one of its precious creatures to man’s greed but no tears are shed.
There are many leopard sightings in the vicinity of Chamundi Hill, Lingambudhi Lake and in Vijayanagar surroundings. But not a single case of attack on humans is reported. This proves that leopards only feed on easy prey that are available near human settlements. They do not attack humans.
Among the animals that are persecuted in the name of saving human population are the elephants — the most revered, respected and equally feared animal. Even elephants do not attack humans unless provoked.
Their eyesight is poor and even in daylight they cannot clearly see beyond 200 feet. Their night vision is much poorer. But they cannot be underestimated as their sense of smell and hearing are too good. They have excellent memory and they rely on these strengths for survival.
An adult elephant consumes about 180 kilos of fodder and about 75 litres of water every day. For this, they need to feed for almost 18 hours and this keeps them moving for long distances.
Even elephants cannot differentiate between a farmland and a forest land. They enter a farmland by chance and not by choice. They do not have a preferential vegetation on their menu. They keep grazing whatever comes on their way.
Preventing a conflict
Mitigating or eliminating man-animal conflict needs a lot of efforts. The Governments and its allied departments like Forest and Revenue must improve animal habitat to augment food and water availability. This will, to a great extent, minimise animal movement from forests to human habitations.
This apart, it is essential to train local Police officers and people and this can be done by the Forest Department by framing guidelines for management of human-animal conflict and publish the same in the local community.
Thirdly, sensitisation of people about the DOs and DON’Ts will help. The trainers can create awareness on animal movement, animal corridor, and animal behaviour during feeding season, and also breeding season. People must also be trained on animal behaviour during the presence of their young ones.
Funding and research
Governments must step in to construct boundary walls and solar fences around the sensitive areas to prevent wild animal attacks. In many cases, these measures have failed, thanks to corruption, lack of political will and of course, bureaucratic lethargy.
Simultaneously, Governments and Universities must encourage and support involvement of research and academic institutions and leading voluntary organisations having expertise in managing human-wildlife conflict situations.
Preventing elephant raids
To ward off wild elephants from farmlands, these are a few things that we can do.
- Digging wide and deep trenches around boundaries of forestland and maintain them, not to allow vegetation to re-grow and prevent mud deposits inside the trenches.
- Installing electric fence with a low voltage. Low enough to scare the elephants as they are too sensitive to electricity. High voltage fences often kill elephants.
- Spraying water mixed with chilli powder or pepper powder on crops that are prone to elephant attacks. This irritates elephants forcing them to retreat. Elephants have keen sense of smell.
- Rearing honeybees — apiculture — on the boundaries of farmlands. The humming sound of bees frightens elephants and they retreat. This way, farmers can get additional income by selling honey.
By M.K. Mukesh
[Photo courtesy: Praful Gopal, Guruprasad Thumbsoge]