The first week of Oct every year is celebrated as Wildlife Week. The aim of this week is to make people aware about the dangers animals are facing today and the need for conservation strategies.
I think it’s as good a time as any to start a new category on my blog, one dedicated to discussing the human-wildlife conflicts. It’s a problem that is not unique to any place in the world; from India to Africa to North America, every major human population in the world has this conflict going on. Any place where you have a human habitation overlapping a natural landscape, you are bound to encounter some form of human-wildlife conflict. It is a conflict that often slips under the radar (geo-politics threatening nuclear war is definitely higher on the conflict ladder), but has been causing huge monetary losses to every country.
Human wild-life conflict has been defined by many organizations. Two of them are-
Human-wildlife conflict occurs when wildlife requirements encroach on those of human populations, with costs both to residents and wild animals (IUCN 2005).
“Human-wildlife conflict occurs when the needs and behavior of wildlife impact negatively on the goals of humans or when the goals of humans negatively impact the needs of wildlife (5th annual World Parks Congress).
It makes sense to dwell on these two definitions for a minute. The first one, defined by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), has clear undertones indicating that it’s the animal’s fault for causing the conflict. That cannot be further from the truth. While they are responsible for instigating a fight due to their natural behavior, is it really their fault?
You know as well as I do that it is humans who start the conflict by mindlessly expanding into the animals’ habitats. That is why it’s called HUMAN-wildlife conflict.
The second definition, is more well rounded, because it involves both facets; wildlife negatively impacting humans and humans negatively impacting wildlife needs.
From my understanding of the situation, human-wildlife conflict is any interaction between animals and humans that can cause negative impact on one or both parties.
The conflict happens in many scales. The classical scenario is of a tiger/leopard entering agricultural lands and feeding on livestock and injuring and/or killing humans who try to ward them off. But other kinds of conflicts do exist. For example, people warding off pigeons from laying eggs on their window sills is a type of human-wildlife conflict. You wouldn’t think twice before doing this, would you? But for the pigeon, it’s a major problem because she has to lay her eggs and keep them safe! Similar interactions occur in urban landscape between humans and squirrels, bees and birds.
On a slightly larger scale, you have conflicts where wild animals enter human lands because of competition, lack of food or tastier alternative into human land on the edges of a natural forest. The losses suffered are both ways here; on some days, the animal wins and goes off triumphant while on other days, humans manage to capture and kill the animal.
On a much larger landscape, we have conflicts arising directly due to human encroachment on natural land. Deforestation, highway construction through natural habitats, expansion of agricultural land (quite common in Brazil) causes massive conflicts where more often than not, it’s the animals that suffer.
The conflict is a classical example of Catch-22. While conservationist work really hard to ensure wildlife is protected, the animals on account of larger numbers eventually end up entering human space and damaging human property. This forces the locals to act against the animals.
There is no permanent solution to the conflicts between humans and wildlife. Competition is the law of nature. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the dynamics of the conflict so as to mitigate them. It will go a long way in reducing massive economic loss to humans and massive loss of life to the animals. In the end, resolving these conflicts will help conserve the world’s biodiversity.
Never forget the words of this woman, who lives on the edge of the Bandipur National Park in India. Every year, pig raids destroy the crops on her farm. When asked if this made her angry, she replied, “This is as much their home as it is ours.”