Deforestation & the Increasing Human-Animal Conflict
Overview & Introduction
Forests make up 31% of the land area on Earth and by and large affect almost every sphere of life of each and every living creature on Earth. With the short-sighted and selfish increase in advancement of developmental activities as per human demand, large-scale deforestation has witnessed a rapid rise, with acres and acres of forest land being cleared, converted and used for non-forest services, such as industrialization, rampant urbanization, housing projects, building of roads for easement in transportation through forest areas, land diversions, logging, mining activities, clear-cutting for agriculture, fuelwood harvesting, and so on.
To fully understand the gravity of the situation, below mentioned are some facts. Deforestation is accountable for the loss of 46% of the world’s tree count, with almost 15 billion trees being slashed to the ground every year. A forest area equivalent to 48 football pitches is cleared by the minute every day. According to a report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO) an estimated 7.3 million hectares (18 million acres) of forest land is being cleared away every year. Some reports also claim that by the middle of this century, we will have lost all of our precious tropical rainforests. These diverse ecosystems are a home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity and a loss in these will lead to a loss of their inhabitant flora and fauna. At the current rate of deforestation activities, it has been estimated that 137 plant, animal and insect species are perishing per day which amounts to a dangerous loss of 50,000 species per year.
We are all aware of the prima facie damages caused by deforestation, this article will try to shed some light on the causes of an issue which has existed since primitive times but has in the past recent years started to gain recognition and unwarranted momentum, namely human-animal conflicts, which has resulted in the merciless killings and brutal deaths of various animals over the years and also loss of lives and properties of humans.
The human-animal conflict
Firstly, what is “human-animal conflict”? It refers to unwanted interaction between humans and animals and the resultant negative impact that it has on animals, people, habitats and resources, including loss of life of animals and humans and damage to property. One of the major reasons for the ensuing human-animal conflicts is degradation or loss of habitat due to deforestation. Lately, in the wake of the growing environmental crisis, the situation has worsened. Reasons attributing to the foraging of animals into human populated areas are:
1) Dwindling habitat due to diminishing forest area as a result of large scale deforestation done by humans for various purposes and a simultaneous boom in human and animal population resulting in the jostling of the two for space and resources. As observed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), “a territorial animal like an individual male tiger needs an area of 60-100 sq. km.”. The area allocated to the Bir Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra, in total, is a mere 138.12 sq. km. Mr S S Bist, an emeritus scientist from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, informs that “Elephants need to travel at least 10-20 km in a day. If a herd is restricted to an area of about 100 sq. km., they are bound to move out in search of food and water. Elephants are used to travelling long distances, most of which fall outside the Protected Areas (PAs)”. Poor conditions and lack of space in PAs and reserves has also resulted in the animals from straying towards human habitation. 21.54% of the country land consists of forests out of which 4% are reserves and 4.95% are PAs. This scanty portion of land houses about 3000 tigers, 25,000 elephants, 3000 rhinoceros’, 7000 leopards and thousands of other species of fauna. It is absolutely absurd to think that so many animals have been cramped in such tiny spaces, so no wonder as a result, they are being forced to venture out of their habitat to compensate for the inadequacy and loss.
2) Human interference and encroachment in the name of development also results in a loss of food and water for the wildlife in forests. A lack of grass and plant cover leads to decrease in number of herbivores, which results in a decrease in prey base for other wild animals. Wetlands and forest patches tend to dry up due to increase in pushing of boundaries by humans into the forestlands. Thus, these homeless and starved and animals forage out to human habitations in search of the missing resources.
3) The developmental work, such as establishment of hydel power projects, building of petroleum pipelines and hi-tension power lines, etc. creates a lot of noise pollution in the otherwise silent and serene forests. The loud clang of the tools and equipment, the roaring machinery and the chatter of the people at work causes a huge pandemonium, disturbing the peace and quiet of the animals in the forest, which might cause fear and panic in their minds and also lead them to rush out from their habitats to move away from all the racket.
4) Some miscreants, under the pretext of work, might indulge in hunting practices. They dodge Forest Department personnel and violate the Indian Forest Act, 1927 for perpetrating acts such introducing toxic chemicals and poisons into ponds to capture fish, tree felling, stealing of valuable forest resources, poaching, etc for the thrill and profits. Such predatory activities also result in the straying of animals away from the jungles.
While there is some amount of data that shows the damage to human life and property, there is no concrete government data that highlights the loss of animal life in these encounters. Neither is there any study conducted on why the conflicts take place and whether they have surged in the past recent years or not. But the increasing news reports on brutal animal killings due to straying on human-owned land suggests otherwise.
As rightly pointed out by Wildlife Activist Ajay Dubey, “Just because they (animals) cannot speak does not mean they don’t have rights. It is because of our urbanisation that they are losing on their natural habitats. We are the ones encroaching”.
Measures undertaken by the government
The human-animal conflict is an inevitable and unavoidable threat. Measures taken by the government to help curb the menace are:
- The initiation of ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’, ‘Project Tiger’ and ‘Project Elephant’ by the Central Government under which it provides financial aid to State Governments to improve the PAs such as national parks and sanctuaries, upgrade the availability of food and water resources in forests and reduce migration of animals from forests to habitations.
- Sensitization campaigns have been launched to create awareness on the issue and precautions to be taken if such a conflict were to ensue. Eco-development activities are carried out in villages surrounding the PAs to evoke cooperation of the communities in its management and to address the grievances of these people regarding human-animal conflicts.
- Authorities have constructed boundary walls, barriers and solar-powered electric fences to keep out the wild animals from human habitations. Necessary infrastructure and support facilities have been developed to identify problematic animals so that they can be tranquilized and then relocated to their natural habitat or be taken to rehabilitation or rescue centres.
- The Forest Department Staff and Police Staff have been inducted into Training Programmes that teach how to address and deal with problems related to human-animal conflicts. Experts from leading voluntary institutions and research and academic institutions are also being involved in these incidents. Immune-contraception and sterilization has been introduced to regulate the population of monkeys, nilgai and wild boars.
- On November 11 2019, the NTCA issued a set of set of revised guidelines and standard operating procedures on dealings with human-animal conflict cases. In a bid to resolve the conflict between tigers and humans, the NTCA, in its new guidelines, has stated that the degrading and misleading label of ‘man-eaters’ given to tigers must be done away with when dealing with cases of human-animal conflicts arising out of straying of tigers onto human habitation. They should instead be referred to as ‘dangerous to human life’.
- The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is opening up regional offices in various states, one opened up in the State of Karnataka in 2019.
- The Central Government has proposed to construct a flyover atop the National Highway 37, which crosses through the Kaziranga National Park, to protect the wild animals living in it from being hit by passing vehicles.
- The government has affirmed that timely deliverance of compensation on losses caused due to such conflicts might help in lessening the hostility of humans towards animals to some extent.
How can you contribute in the reduction of deforestation?
Mulling over the intensity and damage of the problem brings no fruition. One must be ready to make a difference, however small, to mitigate the issue. Some ways in which you can contribute to the cause include:
- Raising awareness. An issue that no one knows about will never be solved for it is not recognised as an issue! Make your voice heard and take initiative. Start campaigns, create slogans, write about it, encourage people to do the same and educate those who are unaware. Raise funds to help those who suffered due to a wild animal attack. Conduct studies and surveys to help authorities from areas prone to these conflicts to understand the situation better.
- Make educated, conscious and well-informed daily choices. We can all be part of a movement towards zero deforestation by using less and sustainable goods, by abiding by the 3 ‘R’ Rule (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), and by using environmentally-friendly products (ensure that all purchased forest-derived products are 100% post-consumer content materials).
- Buy from companies that are pro-environment conservation and be a part of their commitment to go forest-friendly because such initiatives are undertaken to create a movement and make a change.
- And as we all know and have always been asked to do by parents and teachers alike… plant a tree! There can be no better way to combat deforestation.
Deforestation & the Increasing Human-Animal Conflict