Human-wildlife conflicts: Retaliation killings

Humans also have a toleration level in built within us. The difference is that while all other organisms have a tolerance only with respect to their environmental stress, humans are social animals and have multiple levels of tolerances. Mental tolerance is what is severely tested during extended periods of HWC. With extreme economic losses and health and mental turmoil, there comes a point when communities break.

When that happens, things get ugly. Really ugly.

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These pictures tell a gruesome story. Humans can be vicious when attacked, especially as a group. Cases like this are present throughout the country.

The simplest form of retaliation is to try and prevent animal attacks in the communities. The community sets non-lethal traps around the periphery of the village, and sets baits like dead livestock/crop. Once the animal is caught, they are tranquilized with the help of forest officials and removed from the area itself. This is probably the most peaceful way to deal with the problem animals. It has been done by conservationists in the Dachigam National Park, where conflicts with black bears are common. The problem animal is removed and transported to a location deep into the forest; the place has sufficient resources to prevent it from coming back to the community again.

When communities collaborate with scientists to deal with these conflicts, scientists often use markers to tag and identify if the same animal is attacking the community. Often, what seems like 10 leopard attacks may only be 2 leopards attacking one after the other. This helps is identification and tracking of animals; it also helps in removing the problem animals.

This is the most peaceful way of dealing with the animals.

When things get worse, sometimes communities take things into their own hands. They tend to take partially extreme measures to stop/maime/kill the animal, rather than just capture. Bear traps that injure legs permanently, poisoned crops are some of the measures that a community takes. This is definitely not a method recommended by forest officials or scientists; this is an expression of the community’s desperation. It is often the case when the frequency and boldness of the attacks increases.

The last, worst-case scenario is what is shown in those pictures. The animal; when sited are chased and hacked. If the animal escapes, thank god. Because if caught, it’s sure to die. People, emboldened by their numbers and blinded by their anger rage at the animal and kill it. They do not stop there; the animal is sometimes paraded around the village and brutalized, before discarding the body to rot.

This happens in Urban India too!

This form of retaliation is the most commonly studied form; it is widespread in rural India and is an area that many forest officials and conservationists are working to reform. But other types retaliation killings do exist, and many of them are part of urban India. 

Over the last few weeks, I saw many posts on WordPress reader that talk about how the writer saw someone killing bees (here is one of them). They then went on to explain why bees are extremely important in our ecosystems (more on this from my side later). Bee-killing; either for honey or because of fear is a form of conflict that is widespread in under areas. Lack of awareness of the importance of bees is partially the reason, along with the fear induced in children that a bee will sting you if you go near it.

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The bees are scared too!

Bird nests are often unceremoniously removed by house owners in urban areas. Think of the poor bird; the effort it put into building the nest and it’s plight now that it is near mating period with no home for it’s offspring. Squirrels are stoned and their nuts taken by uneducated kids who think they have a right to whatever it is that they want. The list can go on…

These animals need us as much as we need them. This is especially true today, because humans have an imbalanced say in what goes on in the word. Educating the uneducated is the prime responsibility of scientists and forest officials in the rural areas; more often than not these people know that animals are important. Desperation drives them to take untoward measures.

On the other hand, schools should definitely teach kids that harming animals for fun or in fear is not a solution to their problems. While teaching them animals/insects are important is good, we should also tell them why they are important. An appreciation of nature and natural processes is crucial if the future generations are to do act differently from the past generation (read Environment and Demographic for more on generational relationship with the environment).

Author: Saurab Babu

Usually found sitting with a good book, nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate. Always ready for a good story.

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