Re-creating a fear barrier, one- shot contraception and keeping dead animals on jungle tracts for wild carnivores are some of the unconventional measures conservationists and wildlife experts suggest to reduce man- animal conflict. Belinda Wright, executive director of Wildlife Protection Society of India, said conflicts between humans and animals are inevitable, but their level has increased of late mainly due to increasing human encroachments on wildlife habitat. "If the government is serious about protecting India's wildlife, it must stop allowing the continued destruction and divergence of forest lands. This is the root cause behind the conflict," she said. "Forest corridors linking protected areas must be maintained where they exist, or created where they don't. Other measures such as swift delivery of compensation for livestock loss, property damage, or life lost due to conflict are important, but they are not long-term solutions," Wright told PTI. Thailand-based elephant specialist Andy Merk said the government needs to address the encroachment problem urgently. "Existing habitats have to be surveyed and improved to provide food for the elephants, one-shot contraception has to be developed to eventually stop population increases," he suggested. "Local communities need to be educated to have reduced stress levels in elephants during conflict mitigation, no fire, no firecracker and no mob crowds. Individual mitigation methods for each elephant involved have to be developed," he said. Veteran conservationist Raza H Tehsin wants practical and easy steps to be taken by forest authorities to minimise the man-animal conflict. He said wild carnivores have a particular tract of their own to move in the jungles that they follow regularly and wildlife experts must trace these jungle paths. "As the numbers of vultures and scavengers have reduced significantly, the dead cattle and domestic animals keep lying around and rotting for weeks. These dead animals can be picked up and kept on the jungle tracts for the wild carnivores to feast upon. This will help in making the wild carnivores thrive, reduce the number of attacks on cattle and eventually reduce the number of man-eaters too," he said. "The other way to reduce the man-animal conflict is to increase the population of wild ungulates, namely hares and the wild boars, both of which are prolific breeders, as a prey for wild carnivores. Separate big enclosures can be made in the jungles to breed them.
The excess stock can be released in the jungles at regular intervals for the wild carnivores to prey upon," he said. Mayukh Chatterjee, who heads wildlife conflict mitigation at Wildlife Trust of India, says there is no easy or short- term solution to the conflict because it varies across species and landscapes. "For some species, such as rhesus macaques and wild pigs, perhaps re-creating the fear barrier is what is needed to reduce conflicts, while for others perhaps capture and relocation is the proximate solution," he said. According to him, some things the government urgently needs to do is stop using the word "conflict" and term it as something more amicable like "human-wildlife interaction"; train its territorial staff in managing conflict situations with civil society groups with expertise in mitigating conflict; develop core skill sets within the department; and revise compensation schemes. "Governments also need to be cognisant about changes in animal behaviour. For instance commensalism in many species has been promoted due to feeding by local community folk, which has led to increased conflict," he said. Merk feels awareness is very important on the local level, but it has a downside as people with no real understanding of local problems are blowing things out of proportion in social media. "In some areas we need to take unpopular measures to conserve viable elephant populations (relocation, birth control, etc), but so called activist groups will always try to stop it," he said, adding "the governments should put a elephant master-plan in place for all elephant areas. Legislation related to encroachment has to be reviewed and adjusted accordingly." Wright says from a conservation perspective, the aim should be to incentivise communities not to harm wild animals that pass through their lands. "So, swift delivery of compensation for any loss is very important. This obviously becomes difficult when there is loss of human life involved. We should also be thinking of positive incentives for agriculturalists who allow wild animals to pass through their land," she said. She also points out that local communities often bear the brunt of conflict due to activities that damage or destroy wildlife corridors. "For example when elephant corridors are blocked, wild elephants often stray into neighbouring human settlements and cause conflict. So it is not just animals that suffer from these activities, it is people too," Wright said. Awareness, according to her, is important, especially to teach people how to deal with situations in which animals have strayed into human settlements. "Basic knowledge and crowd control can save lives in these situations. In general, we have found that communities who are accustomed to living around wild animals deal much better with them, which proves that awareness does play an important part," she said.
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