Human-wildlife conflict: the new wildlife action plan is an inclusive start to a long journey
The striking difference between the new and the earlier plans is the departure from an exclusionary wildlife conservation model to the incorporation of some inclusive ideas for conservation. This appears to be the beginning of a paradigm shift from the old model of conservation --- focusing on undisturbed protected areas, enforced protection and exclusionary practices --- to a more holistic conservation agenda.opinion Updated: Oct 26, 2017 16:34 IST
A scene of a leopard attack is recreated through taxidermy by Dr Santosh Gaikwad, associate professor at Bombay Veterinary Collge and wildlife taxidermist, at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. For over eight months, tribal hamlets around Film City and Aarey Colony, Goregaon wait anxiously for the first light of dawn, plagued by a spurt in leopard attacks. The areas have reported seven attacks and one death this year, the highest since 2002. (Satish Bate / HT Photo)
In India, wildlife conservation faces complex challenges that vary according to place, time and context. The national wildlife action plans (the first was drafted in 1983) identified some of those challenges and served as long-term roadmaps for addressing them. The new National Wildlife Action Plan (2017-2031), which was released on October 2, reads as a sincere attempt towards meeting the same challenges.
The striking difference between the new and the earlier plans is the departure from an exclusionary wildlife conservation model to the incorporation of some inclusive ideas for conservation. This appears to be the beginning of a paradigm shift from the old model of conservation --- focusing on undisturbed protected areas, enforced protection and exclusionary practices --- to a more holistic conservation agenda.
One of the emerging themes of conservation that has found a place in the new plan is the issue of human-wildlife conflict. Unlike in the previous plans, a chapter has been dedicated to such conflicts, signifying the increasing gravity of the problem and its internalisation by policy makers. Significantly, such conflicts appear to be situated in relation with other central themes of the plan, including the need for a landscape-level approach, the acceptance of rights of use and entry (into forests), and an emphasis on people’s participation in conservation. These are welcome additions but needs to be followed up with action.
One of the drawbacks is that the plan does not explicitly make a distinction between the two manifestations of such conflicts: Man-animal conflict and conservation conflict (the differences that exist between different groups of people located on either side of the conservation divide). These distinctions are important to solve the problem: The first one relates to solutions that aim at local communities and particular species (for example, rural populations living in close proximity to animals and the destruction that happens), while conservation conflict places communities in opposition to top-down wildlife conservation agendas. In such situations, conservation interventions fuel more conflicts.
Solutions for conservation conflict will require a broader agenda, involving an acceptance of a relational ethics and different world views (tolerance, protection, culling and extermination) and democratic decision-making. But the current plan is still geared largely towards blanket protection and preservation arrangements.
While new research results on solutions to conflicts are there in the plan, it pays less attention to issues such as spillover from protected areas, the dynamic and shifting nature of pockets of conflict, and to social-political and cultural aspects of conflicts.
An even greater challenge will be to reconcile this forward-looking plan with existing legislation such as the Wildlife Protection Act, which is heavily rooted in the fortress conservation approach.
It remains to be seen whether inclusive solutions and democratic and rights-based approaches outlined in the plan will be implemented on the ground.
Meera Anna Oommen is associate director, and Trustee, Dakshin Foundation, Bangalore.
The views expressed are personal