It’s man vs wild as roads, power lines, farms and homes creep into the wild

As habitats shrink, the problem is getting worse. Elephants, tigers, lions and snakes are claiming hundreds of lives a year across India.

india Updated: May 14, 2017 09:51 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Man-animal conflict,Sloth bear,Wild
A leopard in the Jyotikuchi area of Guwahati, Assam, in March 2009. Three people were injured when the big cat strayed into a residential area in search of food.(AP File Photo)
Man-animal conflict: A rising toll
  • 81 people have been killed by tigers between 2014 and 2017
  • 2,804 people were killed by elephants between 2009 and 2016
  • 40 people killed by lions between 2014 and 2017, all in Gujarat
  • 300 leopards were killed either by the forest department or by villagers, between 2010 and 2016
  • (Sources: Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change; Government of Gujarat; Wildlife Protection Society of India)

Two people a day — that’s the average death count from man-animal conflict in India. It’s been this high for seven years; higher than terror attacks, higher than malaria.

Elephants, tigers, leopards, lions and snakes cause most of these deaths, across urban and rural India. That’s over 6,000 deaths in seven years, according to data from the Union environment ministry.

In response to questions posed by the opposition regarding the Centre’s stand on the issue during parliamentary meetings earlier this year, environment minister Anil Dave confirmed that man-animal conflict was a “cause of concern”.

The problem is only set to get worse. “Man-animal conflict is increasing and will increase further because wildlife habitats are shrinking under pressure from humans,” says Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based thinktank.

Here’s a snapshot of that pressure. At the last meeting of the standing committee of the Union environment ministry’s National Board for Wildlife, on March 27 (see the minutes here), a total of 25 infrastructure, road-widening and projects relating to the setting up of railway lines were proposed, both inside protected forests and in buffer areas, in states across the country. Seven were given a primary nod during the meet.

An Asiatic lion in the Gir forest, Gujarat. 40 people have been killed by lions in the state, between 2014 and 2017. (Reuters File Photo)
“When development does not take into account the negative impact on forests and wildlife, the result is a growing interface between wild animals and people. Under stressful situations, both parties behave abnormally,” says Anish Andheria, president of the non-profit Wildlife Conservation Trust

A state highway through the Satpura-Pench corridor in Madhya Pradesh, home to 53 tigers, is set to be widened. A river-linking project will submerge 4,600 hectares of the Panna Tiger Reserve, also in MP. Mining projects are awaiting approval in wildlife corridors.

Already, between 2001 and 2003 alone, nearly 8,000 hectares of forest were lost in West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, to iron ore, coal and limestone mining. Elephants, bison, tigers, leopards, bears, wild dogs and wild boar have been pushed eastwards as a result.

Roads and power lines in the elephant corridor are causing the first-ever man-elephant conflict in Maharashtra.

“We had objected to the widening of a 3.5-km stretch of highway within the Karnala bird sanctuary in Maharashtra and it had been taken off the table. Now, the proposal has been cleared,” says Godfrey Pimenta, trustee, NGO Watchdog Foundation.

A senior official from the Karnataka forest department admits there is a need to protect core areas within protected forests. “These areas are being targeted for shorter commute routes. Roads and rail links are running through them and destroying habitats of major predators. It would help if artificial water bodies were constructed around these areas as well, to ensure that these animals do not travel long distances for water because that has become a key issue amid declining rainfall and changing climate.”

Wildlife experts say gaps in reserve and sanctuary management are also to blame.

“The entire focus of management is directed at the animals. In most cases, there is no coordinated effort to safeguard people,” says wildlife biologist and researcher Vidya Athreya. “What little action is taken is taken after the fact. And even that tends to focus on paying compensation. Instead, governments need to proactively help farmers build livestock sheds and fences, generate awareness about simple ways to keep the animal concerned at bay.”

First Published: May 12, 2017 23:26 IST