Human-wildlife conflict: 251 deaths in Palakkad
Kozhikode: Human-wildlife conflict in Kerala claimed 1,048 human lives in the last 10 years (2011-2021), a top forest official in the state told mathrubhumi.com on condition of anonymity. Out of the 1,048 deaths, 729 succumbed to snakebite and 319 lost lives in other wildlife attacks, the official added. He also shared the following facts:
- 10 years' data shows, out of the 1,048 deaths, the highest number of deaths was in Palakkad (251), followed by Thrissur (174), Kannur (100) and Malappuram (97)
- Human-elephant conflict is the second major cause that has claimed human lives after snakebite and from 2010 to 2021, 190 individuals have lost lives to it
- Data from 2010 to 2021 shows, there is no significant rise in cases where humans attack wildlife (unnatural death of wild animals)
The revelation comes at a time when human-wildlife conflict has become something of a hot potato in Kerala. However, the decadal data and facts disclosed by the official suggests that the human-wildlife conflict in Kerala is not at an alarming level. Meanwhile, it is important to note that the information provided is devoid of many specifics. Similarly, the data is limited to casualties and does not reveal other socio-economic and environmental costs of human-wildlife negative interaction.
A gist on human-wildlife conflict
Human-wildlife conflict is a contentious topic and the row over it starts with what it implies. Some consider it a wild animal attack. On the other side of the aisle, some see it as a negative interaction between humans and wildlife. Though it is technically sound and solid to go with the latter, the genuine concerns and issues flagged by the former need to be addressed.
Both human and wildlife mutually bear the brunt of human-wildlife conflict. On one side it results in loss of life of humans, injury to humans, damage to crops or human property or domestic livestock. On the other it will lead to inadequate wildlife population, predation of managed wildlife stock and habitat loss. Scientific experts in the field say that there are no easy answers like 'cull all the attacking animals' or 'let the humans suffer' for resolving the human-wildlife conflict. They say policy measures ensuring mitigation and co-existence are the way out. Similarly, the way human-wildlife conflict is handled also comes under various international treaties, thus making it a complex topic like climate change.
Major human-wildlife conflict observed in Kerala
According to a case study published in 2018 on Human Wildlife Conflict in Kerala, by two researchers--Padma Mahanti and Sanjeet Kumar, the seven human-wildlife conflict observed in Kerala are:
- Human- Elephant
- Human-Wild boar
- Human-Sloth Beer
However, media reports emerging on a routine basis show that the conflict is not limited to these seven categories and many other individual instances are happening across Kerala. Also, the reports suggest that human-snakes conflict, human- elephant conflict and human-wild boar conflict are the ones most common in Kerala.
Notably, a freak accident that recently happened in Thrissur, all together changed the perspective about human-wildlife conflict. A man was killed after a flying peacock collided with his bike. The person was travelling with his wife when the incident happened. His wife and another biker were also injured. The peacock was also killed in the accident. The incident triggered public outcry in social media with the narrative of: 'What is more important? Wildlife or Humans?'.
Is there a wild animal population explosion in Kerala?
According to Dr Shaji M, Assistant Professor of Department of Wildlife Science, College of Forestry, Kerala Agricultural University, Thrissur, it is difficult to conclusively say in one shot that the population of any wild animals is drastically increasing in Kerala without studying their respective viable populations."We cannot say that there is a wild animal population explosion. Periodical data shows populations of some types of wild animals are increasing. However, in no way it can be correlated with population explosion. So the viable population of the specific wild animal needs to be studied. That means we need to specifically ascertain what is the minimum and favourable pool of an animal in relation with their habitat and other coexisting animals so that they can survive even when there are unfavourable conditions," he said.
Meanwhile, the periodical data released by the government also shows there is no drastic increase in population of any type of wild animals.
Why forest department alone cannot resolve the issue?
Social media narrative is predominately against the forest officials. However, ground realities are different. It is important to note that Kerala Forest Department is for the welfare of forest and wildlife. While, human-wildlife conflict is a topic that has wider scope as humans are involved. The officials are obligated to prevent negative interaction of wild animals like elephants, tigers or leopards. But they also face the burden of preventing negative interactions from peafowl, monkey, snakes, wild boars and many other herbivores which are widely seen in the domestic environment too. Meanwhile, some experts in the field even say that it is easier to spot wild boars near human settlements than in thick forest. Though there are no in depth studies corroborating this phenomenon, these remarks call for the need of behavioural studies in wild animals.
The scope and scale of human-wildlife is wide and the forest department alone cannot practically handle the issue with its present resources. They are constrained by both human and financial resources. Many insiders pinpoint that a comprehensive plan of action by coordinating local self-government bodies and agricultural departments is crucial. They also say there should be a clear differentiation in their jurisdiction with respect to buffer, fringe and human settlements.
Most of the mitigation measures in place are the ones with short term benefits. This includes physical barriers, setting up of Rapid Response Teams and Jana Jagratha Samithies in conflict prone regions. However, long term measures like habitat improvement works,elephant corridors ,relocation of people from enclosures, changing cropping patterns in the fringes or the way land is used for wildlife tourism need to be implemented. Interestingly, Kerala Forest Department has recently submitted a comprehensive plan to mitigate human-wildlife negative interaction to the state government. It is learnt that the proposed plan report has a framework for resolving human-wildlife conflict based on species, zones. The department also maintains that they are not against farmers or humans near forest fringes.