Big cats barging into the homes or jumbos wreaking havoc in the human vicinity fascinate netizens across social media, but, those who face these animals first hand, do not share the same sentiment. Rather, in the wake of crop and livestock losses to predatory animals, people retaliate causing injury and even death to the endangered and precious fauna.
“Soaring human population, the occupation of and construction on the land around the sanctuaries have created barriers to animal movement making human-animal conflicts a daily affair,” says Dr NVK Ashraf, Senior Director and Chief Veterinarian Wildlife Trust of India, WTO.
Terming ‘’retaliatory killings” as the natural response of the local people when they suffer losses and in some cases, deaths, Dr Vinod Mathur, Director Wildlife Institute of India says, “Their reaction is natural to avenge their loss. A prompt process of giving compensation in case of economic losses and providing medical care to the people injured could stop people from taking law into their hands.”
Endorsing the opinion Dr. Ashraf says, “The amount of ex-gratia varies from state to state coupled with the tardy process of its reimbursement frustrating people. If people are resorting to retaliatory killings then obviously the amount is paltry and process lethargic.”
With the compensation process lying in doldrums, insurance scheme insuring the crop and livestock (sheep, cow, buffaloes) from wildlife animals seems an apt solution. Further getting the fillip, the scheme has been instrumental in saving Snow leopards from the retaliatory killings in Pakistan. The Project Snow Leopard which is based in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), has paid farmers Rs 2.4 million in compensation since 2006 according to Scroll, one of the leading digital portals.
Seeing value in investing in such schemes on a pilot basis, Dr Mathur says, “Initially, it should be implemented on a pilot basis and after the evaluation of its efficacy, be up-scaled.”
Acknowledging that the idea is on the drawing board only at this stage, Dr Ashraf added, “We have the policy of livestock insurance when it comes to our dairy sector. But yes, to the best of my knowledge neither any NGO nor the government has attempted anything on this front.”
Dwelling upon the range of solutions and keeping his fingers crossed to the possibility of large-scale implementation of the insurance scheme Dr Ashraf said: “WTI ran a scheme called Grain for Grain scheme; after the survey of the damaged crop by the officials, the farmer would be provided as much grain as she may have lost. On similar lines, we had a project called Buffalo for Buffalo. Many of the times, the livestock losses are not as much as people would like us to believe. A couple of buffaloes may have got killed but it does not mean that we insure all the buffaloes. It may have been an aberration on the part of the big cat and a temporary phenomenon. In such cases, prompt and apt compensation would do.”
Stressing on the need for tailor-made solutions and proper assessment of the place before implementing the scheme, Dr Mathur added, “In urban areas leopards and macaques could be seen inhabiting the human habitat whereas in rural areas tiger, pigs, elephants are the species which enter into the residential areas. One cannot have a uniform and blanket insurance scheme across the country.”
Apart from compensation and insurance scheme, there is a range of temporary measures at our disposal like acoustic and lighting methods which could scare away the wildlife animals but these are temporary as the animals get accustomed to these measures, said Dr Ashraf.
To the proposition that funding of the insurance scheme is the elephant in the room when it comes to implementing this idea, Dr Mathur said, “Funding is the major issue. Unlocking of Corporate Social Responsibility CSR funds could be one.”
Sharing a fraction of the insurance premium would make people feel the ownership of their cattle said Dr. Ashraf. He further added, “50 or 60 per cent of the premium should be borne by the government and rest by the people. This will make sure that people who really feel the need to insure their cattle would go for it and prevent people from insuring their unproductive cattle.”
Describing faulty land-use practices as the major blue Dr Ashraf says, “There has to be a gap between sanctuaries and human habitat. Forget land grabbing, people can legally build settlements on their Patta land just outside the national parks.”
Seeing the growth of wildlife animals further compounding the problem Dr Mathur, says “With stringent anti-poaching laws and wild-life projects taken in 1970s, the no. of wildlife animals is increasing but sadly there is no increase in the wildlife habitat. Wild animals are by nature territorial; they seek to conquer a separate territory of their own leading to infighting among themselves and their movements outside the sanctuary in search of new avenues.”
Betraying the sense of immediacy and alarm Dr Ashraf says, “Nobody would have come to know about a man getting mauled by an elephant 30 years ago. Courtesy social media, the problem is getting the attention of people, otherwise, man-animal conflict is not something new.”