Blogging About Critters Since 2007

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Human-Animal Conflict in India

Interesting opinion piece by Mahesh Rangarajan, an environmental historian, in the Telegraph of Calcutta.

He identifies a key problem in India.

Human-animal conflicts seem endemic to India today. A leading newspaper recently featured a schoolteacher who models himself on the legendary Jim Corbett, and shoots man-eating leopards on government licence. Large carnivores are often in conflict with cattle- or goat-owners, whose livelihood is under threat.

Conversely, revenge killings since the last four decades have resorted to modern petro-chemical based poisons. More insidious, and probably more endangering, is the conflict between humans — their industry or agriculture — and the habitat that provides sustenance to wild animals.

And he highlights the need to incorporate the human population into conservation strategies.

What can be done, but only in a few cases, is to re-establish stable populations in former range, once this is suitable in terms of prey and habitat. The Kuno sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh can probably hold a small lion population. Gir in Gujarat is only part of the range of Asia’s last lions. Many of the big cats permanently reside outside the sanctuary and feed mostly on cattle. These can easily be translocated, acclimatized and released in Kuno.

Yet, each of these responses, seclusion, incentives to reduce conflict or re-wilding is site-specific. These cannot be applied without reference to context and place, nor can they save each and every animal. Here, animal rights activists, who rightly focus on the dignity of animals, have to ask how those who lose loved ones or stock feel about wild animals.

In turn, the securing of a life of dignity for those who are under-privileged can and should be reconciled with the retention, not the destruction, of habitats that can sustain ecological diversity. Nepal’s Chitwan is a strictly protected reserve for rhinos and tigers. But it is now reinforced by common property lands that have been re-wilded in return for a substantial share of tourism revenues via the panchayats. The biologist, Eric Dinerstein, even believes that such strategies can help restore large areas of habitat, reconnect secure sanctuaries and replace a conflict ridden scenario with one of cooperative conservation.

Yet protection seems a far cry when confronted with the reality of conflict. Work, such as that of Wildlife First or the Nature Conservation Foundation, has in it the seeds of a new approach. It seeks to avoid the Scylla of animal rights where every animal matters. Instead, the focus is on populations, species and habitats.

The practical side of me knows this is a reasonable approach, but there is also the side of me that gets angry. The human species has wreaked so much pain and suffering on animals and on each other. The world wasn't created for us and yet we always have to come first.


Photo by Leo Cheung

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