Human-wildlife conflict

Another human-wildlife conflict shook the country. The brutal killing of a pregnant wild elephant in Kerala led to widespread condemnation. The killing of pregnant elephant Vinayaki in Palakkad, an incident that left millions of hearts bleeding across the country, is now under investigation.

Another female elephant had met with similar fate in April in Pathanapuram forest range area under Punalur division in Kollam district. It is known that the elephant was found in a serious condition from the fringe areas of the forests in Pathanapuram by forest officials in the month of April.

The pachyderm was found alienated from the herd of elephants. Its jaw was broken and it was unable to eat. It is still not clear if this ghastly killing was the work of illicit liquor brewers who do their job in the forest. Regarding the ghastly killing of the elephants all is still conjecture still but truth will surely come out.

The photos of Vinayaki shared on social media showed the elephant standing in the river with her mouth and trunk in water, perhaps for some relief from what can only be imagined as excruciating pain.

Vinayaki, a pregnant wild elephant died in Palakkad district on May 27 after it ate a pineapple stuffed with crackers, offered to her by some locals. According to forest officials, the elephant suffered an injury in its lower jaw and died standing in river Velliyar.

There might have been some type of crackers inside the fruit which was eaten by the elephant and the blast occurs when the innocent elephant could not even drink water. The tide of anger and grief after visuals of the elephant, dead in a river is uncontrollable.

The growing human population, deforestation, loss of habitat and decline in their prey species are few major reasons behind the human wildlife conflict in India. Natural wildlife territory is overlaps with the human existence and various forms of human–wildlife conflict occur with various negative results.

Human-wildlife conflict occurs when animals pose a direct and recurring threat to the livelihood or safety of people, leading to the persecution of that species. Retaliation against the species blamed often ensues, leading to conflict about what should be done to remedy the situation.

Elephant-human conflict is a result of habitat loss and fragmentation. When elephants and humans interact, there is conflict from crop raiding, injuries and deaths to humans caused by elephants, and elephants being killed by humans for reasons other than ivory and habitat degradation.

Human-wildlife interactions have occurred throughout man’s prehistory and recorded history. Among the early forms of human-wildlife conflict is the depredation of the ancestors of prehistoric man by a number of predators of the Miocene such as saber-toothed cats, leopards, and spotted hyenas.

As a tropical continent with substantial anthropogenic development, the Africa is a hotspot for biodiversity and therefore, for human-wildlife conflict. Two of the primary examples of conflict in Africa are human-predator (lionsleopardscheetahs, etc.) and human-elephant conflict.

Like human-predator in Africa, encounters between tigers, people, and their livestock is a prominent issue on the Asian continent. Attacks on humans and livestock have exacerbated major threats the tiger conservation such as mortality, removal of individuals from the wild and negative perceptions of the animals from locals.

Human-wildlife conflict in Europe includes interactions between people and both carnivores and herbivores. Instances of human-wildlife conflict are widespread in North America. In Wisconsin, United States wolf depredation of livestock is a prominent issue that resulted in the injury or death of 377 domestic animals over a 24-year span.

Human wildlife conflict also has a range of ‘hidden’ dimensions that are not typically considered when the focus is on visible consequences. Since 1986, the Asian elephant has been listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List as the wild population has declined by at least 50% since the 1930s to 1940s, i.e. three elephant generations.

The Asian elephant is threatened by habitat lossdegradation and fragmentation.  Project Elephant was launched in 1992 by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to provide financial and technical support of wildlife management efforts by states for their free ranging populations of wild Asian Elephants.

The project aims to ensure long-term survival of viable conservation reliant populations of elephants in their natural habitats by protecting the elephants, their habitats and migration corridors.

The perpetrators may be prosecuted for the elephant’s death in Kerala but that can do little to mitigate the larger issue of lost ranges and blocked corridors for these wandering giants. India has thousands of elephants — just under 30,000 according to available counts — but still there is no strong science-imbued policy that can encourage soft landscapes and migrating passages which may reduce conflict.

Dr Ratan Bhattacharjee is associate professor at Dum Dum Motijheel College. He can be reached at: profratanbhattacharjee@gmail.com

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