De-coding the frequent incidents of human-animal conflict
From understaffed and ill-equipped Wild Life Department to human interference in habitats of wild animals, the authorities need to have all-inclusive strategy to tackle the challenge.
The human-animal conflict is not a new phenomenon in Kashmir Valley. The reports about these conflicts appear in news now and then; and the intensity of the problem can be gauged by the official data, which say that as many as 118 people were killed and 1877 wounded in attacks by wild animals in the Valley during the past 10 years (from 2011). In the year 2020, as many as 10 deaths and 141 injuries by wild animals were reported in Kashmir.
At least three human deaths by the wild animals have been reported by now, this year. Of them, the most recent incident occurred late evening on Friday (September 17) at Hari Pora Haran in Soibugh of Budgam district, where an eight-year-old boy was mauled to death by a leopard. This horrifying and unfortunate incident occurred around three months after a four-year-old girl was killed by a leopard on June 3, in the Ompura area of the same district. The mutilated body of the girl was recovered in the forest nursery about one kilometer from her house next day. Since then the wildlife department has captured as many as seven leopards in the same area; and presently, as many as seven cage traps, to hook the life-threatening animals, have been set by the department in Ompura and the adjacent areas.
It is not only that the leopards roaming in Budgam have become a great threat to the humans, even cattle are bearing the brunt of these attacks every now and then. Such incidents are rarely reported though. On the intervening night of May 17 and 18 this year, ten sheep were killed in a leopard attack in Khaipora village of Khansahib tehsil of Budgam.
To understand the causes of the growing incidences of human-animal conflict across the Valley, and particularly the growth of man-eater leopards near human habitations in Badgam; KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some experts. Here are the excerpts:
The leopards have got urbanized on the 20 to 25 kilometer long stretch of the Karewa (Wodder) in Badgam over the years. We don’t know how many leopards are there in this belt, but normally one leopard lives in a two to three square kilometer area. Since this Karewa is vegetated, it gives required cover to the animals. On the downhill of this Karewa belt, hamlets, and even towns like Badgam are situated. Leopards don’t necessarily need huge jungles to live in. They would live anywhere subject some cover and food availability.
The leopards living in the Karewa vegetation find their food easily in terms of dogs. The dog population is always growing in nearby areas due to the mismanagement of solid waste. That means these leopards have both the required things —the cover and food — available here.
Therefore, it is wrong to say that these wildlife animals are coming out of their habitats. These leopards have adopted an urban habitat, and now they have adapted to this unnatural lifestyle. They are no more the leopards, which used to live in a natural habitat —the jungle, earlier. They do not come to human habitats, they are already living near these habitats, thus can be seen anywhere in human populations.
Keeping this reality in mind, we have started a massive awareness campaign to ensure the safety of humans in Badgam. People need to be vigilant and alert all the time. Since leopards mostly attack during the dark, there should be enough lights on in human habituats during the night so that leopards do not dare to come close to these areas. Also, we need to have trash management to stop stray dog growth. Live stocks should be kept properly locked in the sheds during the night.
Our department is working all the time to ensure the safety of the people. We have established control rooms, where our men are available to respond to the emergency calls 24×7. We have already captured seven leopards since June this year; and, even now many cage traps are set in the vulnerable areas to catch these animals. However, when we capture a leopard, another takes its habitat. Even we have got killing orders from the competent authority so that in case of extreme danger, we can kill an animal. But, the killing would be our last resort.
We are doing our best to ensure the safety of the people and to avoid unfortunate incidents like the recent one. We are working on it, along with the police, and the administration. That said, we will not succeeded until the people cooperate with us in terms of taking precautionary masseurs.
Until some three decades ago, wildlife in Jammu and Kashmir was safe and fully protected. At that time, unlike now, neither humans used to intrude into the wildlife habitat nor animals would show up in villages and towns. But the whole story has changed during all these years. Now, we can see the presence of security personal in wildlife habitats, and macadamized roads built to these places. Even the infrastructure has been created deep into the jungles at many places. All this has created a sense of insecurity among the wildlife. And this situation, eventually, has posed a great threat to humans, and thus a great challenge to the wildlife department.
Worst, the department is neither well equipped nor having a sufficient workforce to tackle the new challenges. An insufficient budget for the department is the main cause for its inability. The lack of funds is also a reason for having innumerable posts vacant in this department. Most of the employees lack the training to deal with wildlife issues. Sadly, a number of employees have been taken on the political recommendations in the past. This workforce is useless. These employees are least bothered about fulfilling their deities.
On the other hand, the dedicated and passionate employees are not promoted to next levels, which eventually makes them uninterested in fulfilling their responsibilities. Imagine, a forest guard has not been promoted for the past twenty years or so, and neither has his work been appreciated during this time. How can you expect him to go an extra mile while doing his job?
To be brief, I would say the government has to do a lot to ensure the safety of wildlife and human habitats. To begin with, further desecration of the jungle should be stopped immediately. No further infrastructure should be allowed near wildlife habitats. Also, we should enrich the jungles with further plantation; but restrain to develop jungles nearby the human habitats. We can grow plants in and nearby the human populations but we should not let haphazard plantations near villages. This is exactly what has happened in Badgam. Massive vegetation nurseries have been let to develop here over the years. Leopards have adopted these vegetations as their places to live in, and they refuse to move back to the jungles now.
Since the threat of man-animal conflict is looming in several areas in the Valley, the wildlife department needs to be rejuvenated. We need more skill development training, equipment, and guidance from experienced people. There are a number of experienced people in Kashmir who have worked in the forest department and know each nook and corner of the jungle where they have served.
They are now retired, but some of them can be engaged again to get benefitted from their knowledge and experience. If I am asked, I would suggest there should be at least three committees — in north, south, and central Kashmir— formed for protecting wildlife habitats, and to address the issue of man-animal conflict; and these experienced people should be taken in these committees.
Additionally, we also need to introduce technology in the wildlife department to keep an eye on the situation. For example, CCTV cameras should be installed in vulnerable areas to watch the moment of wildlife animals. This will enable us to gauge the level of threat to the nearby human populations. We can also train some people from vulnerable human habitats to tackle the threats. Some of them can be trained and provided weapons to tranquilize animals in times of danger.
Lastly, I would say the wildlife department, after being equipped with facilities should be made accountable for its work. During thirty years of my service, I failed to understand what is the fun of celebrating the wildlife week every year, if we have nothing to show? Every year during wildlife week we hear speeches and sermons. We need to work, rather than talk.
Sadly, the incidences of human-animal conflict have become prevalent in various areas of the Valley. However, I think we humans are at fault in this matter. Simply because we have been intruding and encroaching upon wildlife habitats over the years, and in return, the wildlife animals too have got loose. This has led to conflict.
As human beings, we ought to understand and protect the rights of animals. We must understand that wildlife animals have the first right to live on this planet. Before creating Adam, Almighty created the animal kingdom; and the Adam was firstly greeted by wildlife species on this planet. Therefore, they have equal, if not, more rights than humans on this planet.
However, unfortunately, we humans have not only been intruding on habitat of wildlife animals but also chase them out. Their habitat is shrinking day by day in this part of the land. Even bakarwals are frequently entering their habitats in various areas of the Valley, and end up disturbing these habitats.
To protect wildlife and ensure the safety of humans is a huge project. For this, the wildlife department needs to be provided with sufficient manpower and facilities. And then this department can be and should be made accountable to see the improvement in terms of protection of both —the humans and animals — from each other. I say this because when we talk to the concerned officials of the wildlife department, they cite lack of manpower as a reason for their inability to tackle the man-animal conflict. Also, we need to identify the areas where these conflicts mostly occur so that we are better equipped to understand the causes of this conflict. It will also help us to tackle the problem efficiently.
Furthermore, we need to ensure that wildlife animals are safe from poachers as well. We need to be sensitive about this issue. I have not heard anyone saying whoever harms a bear or a leopard would be tried in the court of law.
People need to understand that we cannot encroach on the wildlife habitat and expect no reaction from them. Sadly, we have seen people ruthlessly beating and at times killing wildlife animals when they catch them.All this must stop. An enhanced public awareness campaign to educate the community and give an overview of issues concerning the human-animal conflict is an immediate thing to start with.
The heart-wrenching incident, in which a young boy was mauled to death by a leopard at Hari pora Haran in Badgam, has again brought the issue of human-animal conflict to the light. Since this is the second incident of its kind at the same place in less than four months, we ought to think, why leopards, which otherwise are known for their shy and secretive behavior, have become a great threat to humans, particularly in Badgam district. Also, we must find the answer to the question that: why the leopards, which used to be found in the jungles earlier, are now frequently seen in our villages?
In my view, the causes for the ongoing human-animal conflicts in the Valley range from massive deforestation, construction of roads and infrastructure projects to the encroachment of wildlife habitats by humans. The greed and longing for more resources by humans have led to the loss of wildlife habitat. Thus the result is in front of us in terms of daily incidents of human-animal conflicts. To ensure the safety of both humans and animals, we must stop the further destruction of forest areas and do away with diverting forest land for developmental projects. We have seen that the wildlife natural habitats, particularly in Pir Panjaal mountainous range have been vandalized due to developmental projects. For example, more than 45,000 trees were axed in the Pir Panjaal forests to lay 440 double circuits Jallandhar-Samba Amargrah transmission lines in 2017–18. This huge transmission line passes through 340 square km of the Herpora wildlife reserve in Shopian district. Its installation has eventually disturbed the local wildlife. The massive deforestation has caused the migration of leopards from higher altitudes to low-lying areas in the Pulwama and Budgam districts.
Additionally, the man-animal conflict is increasing with the increase in the wildlife population. If the government is really sincere in protecting both, it must stop the further destruction of forest areas and diverting forest land for developmental projects. Massive afforestation programmes should be launched in forest areas which have witnessed massive deforestation in the last few decades. This is the only way to push the wildlife animals back to their natural habitat from places nearby the human habitats.