A wild elephant in an agriculture field at Malampuzha, Palakkad district in March 2020. Photo by P S Manoj.

Human-wildlife conflict and the quest for coexistence

Though Kerala has achieved significant gains in conservation and elephant protection, human-animal conflicts involving elephants repeatedly occur in the Western Ghats region passing through Kasargod, Kannur, Wayanad, Malappuram, Palakkad, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Kollam districts. Wayanad, Attappady region in Palakkad and Idukki often witness crop-raiding by elephants and violent retaliation by farmers.

“There is no rationale in terming all farmers as haters of wildlife. During September last year, farmers in Pulpally and Sulthan Bathery regions of Wayanad had organised silent processions and condolence meetings to mourn the death of Maniyan, a wild tusker that lived among them without engaging in any clash. In Attappady, tribal local residents are demanding the return of their favourite wild elephant Peelandi, who was captured and relocated due to crop raiding and posing threat to human lives. Co-existence is possible and the forest department is duty-bound to ensure that,’’ said environmental activist Boban Mattumantha.

As per information available from the forest department, there are attempts to further dilute the process to kill wild boars in the state.  However, wildlife conservationists are opposing that move on the ground that further relaxation would open the door for unchecked poaching and spawn a black market for wild meat. They say marauding sounders (herd of wild swine) destroy crops more than wild boars and elephants.

“The number of wild boars must be strictly regulated. But at the same time, we must not forget the fact that they constitute an important link in the food cycle of carnivores. Indiscriminate killing of wild boars would lead to dwindling of its population and upset the food chain. If it happens, there would be ecological imbalances,’’ warns a senior forest official who preferred anonymity. He also fears that the order may eventually be extended to other crop-raiding animals.

However, the omnivorous animal’s population is multiplying fast across the state. A nocturnal feeder, the boars mostly raids plantains, fallen coconuts and tubers including tapioca, colocasia and elephant yam. They also dig up turmeric and ginger plants and paddy fields to feed on grubs. Over a dozen human casualties due to wild boar attacks have been reported in the state in the last five years.

Farmers are using cable wires, neem cakes, barbed wires, bamboo fencings, fish nets and firecrackers to illegally fight the porcine menace. As far as wildlife experts are concerned, selective culling is a possible option to control the burgeoning population of the wild pig. Also what matters most is ending human interferences in the buffer zones of forests. Unscrupulous quarrying and unscientific expansion of roads must be prohibited.

A wild elephant crossing a railway track at Kanjikode-Walayar stretch in Palakkad. Increasing human intrusions in wildlife corridors has resulted in a rise in human-animal conflicts. Photo by P S Manoj.
A wild elephant crossing a railway track at Kanjikode-Walayar stretch in Palakkad. Increasing human intrusions in wildlife corridors has resulted in a rise in human-animal conflicts. Photo by P S Manoj.

Why are wild animals leaving their territories?

In Kerala, tigers, leopards, gaurs and bears are also entering human settlements, along with wild boars and elephants. All such incidents are suggestive of the fact that wild animals are forced to leave their territories when disturbed by humans or nature. Their intrusion into human habitations must be controlled only by strengthening the habitats and ensuring enough food and water.

Official records show that Kerala has a forest cover of 11,309 sq km. It comprises 29.1 percent of the state’s total area. Of this, 9,107 sq km comprise reserve forests and 1,837 sq km, vested forests and ecologically fragile lands.

“Encroachment on forests, blocking of natural wildlife corridors for constructions and setting up of tourist resorts have hampered the free movement of wild animals in their own natural habitats. Habitat restoration is the scientific long term solution,’’ said N. Badusha of Wayanad Prakrithi Samrakshana Samithy.

According to official data released by the forest department last year, human-animal conflicts increased in Kerala from 6,022 cases to 7,229 between 2016 and 2018. “In the conflict zones, locals are adopting various illegal mitigation methods and they include erecting electric fences and building trenches. Crude bombs are now turning a less expensive deterrent,” opines forest and wildlife expert O. P. Nameer.

According to him, now there is a trend among rich people in cities to buy land close to forest fringe areas at cheaper prices to start rubber plantations and they have scant regard for the environment. What makes the situation disturbing in Kerala is the ideological upper hand managed by the encroachment lobby in recent years. Political parties use them as vote banks and engage in appeasement tactics. Wildlife and habitat conservation meanwhile, takes a backseat.

Read more: It is all about encroachment in the hills of Munnar


Banner image: According to the lead veterinary surgeon, the pregnant wild elephant drowned and died after it was injured by consuming food material with crude explosives inside and could not eat for days. She died at Thiruvizhamkunnu outside Silent Valley National Park, Palakkad. Photo by P S Manoj.

Article published by Aditi Tandon
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