It is heart-wrenching to know about such an inhumane act where the mother elephant died (I should better use “killed”) in Kerala for no fault of hers. Knowing about her pregnancy has shaken all of us deeply. Various newspapers have reported that a fruit filled with crackers took away her life. Justified nationwide anger is being observed over such a condemnable act. This incident has shaken our souls, and it is high time we do self-introspection over our human-centric concept of ‘development’, which is devoid of wildlife and environment.
According to Professor O.P. Nammeer, “such bombings have become a common practice to kill wild boars. It may be purposely used against the elephant, or she may have become an accidental victim”. He further describes that other methods are also being used like “putting up electric fences, building trenches, or becoming more brutal and using a crude bomb”.
Such unjustified human actions take us to the more significant debate of human-wildlife conflict.
Over the years, humans have increased their habitat in an unbridled manner, thereby reducing the natural habitats of wildlife. It has intensified the struggle for scarce space and resources between humans and animals. Therefore, animals are now forced to venture into ‘human spaces’, where they come into direct conflict with humans.
Such incidents pose threats to both humans and wildlife- for instance, damage of crops and livelihood and killing of livestock become a severe issue for farmers. In retaliation, humans take strict measures against animals, which sometimes result in the deaths of animals.
Scientific debates have been going on for many years over the present time- Is it the Holocene epoch or have we reached the Anthropocene epoch? Anthropocene shows that humans have started to influence the earth and its environment in a significant manner by altering it as per human needs. Global experts reveal decisive human-activities like ‘nuclear bomb tests, plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken’.
It is said that “plastic could become a key marker of the Anthropocene. Earth is now awash with plastic– millions of tons are produced every year. Because plastic does not biodegrade, it ends up littering soils and ocean beds”. It is high time that we march forward from anthropocentric (Human-centric) to the ecocentric (Nature-centric) worldview.
In simple terms, we have become selfish in our activities that we are not acknowledging the importance of wildlife and mother nature on our planet. We are indiscriminately plundering the earth without realizing the more enormous implications of it. Humans have started to think of themselves as the masters of the planet and other creatures as their servants. Fishes and other marine animals are also dying due to our plastic and waste materials. Therefore, there is a need for complete rethinking by humans to have a better world with peaceful co-existence with wildlife.
These are some suggestions which can prove to be effective in minimizing the human-wildlife conflicts:
Technology can be harnessed to reduce human-wildlife conflicts. For instance, WildSeve is a mobile technology initiative by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is striving to help ‘addressing human-wildlife conflicts and has been implemented in 284 villages in India’. WildSeve team claims that they have helped “file claims in 3261 incidents of crop and property damage by elephants and other herbivores and nearly 1000 families have already received substantial and fair compensation” from the government.
WildSeve Team is assisting the families in filing compensation forms with the government, including fair assessment of the damage, and- they act as intermediaries between people and government agencies, ensuring transparency. Such usage of technology will help in preventing the vicious circle of revenge where humans and animals get trapped forever.
‘Chili peppers mixed with the engine oil, a spicy concoction that sticks to fences, even in heavy rain’ has proved to be quite successful in East Africa. The pungent smell of pepper repels elephants. Moreover, elephants are scared of bees, and hence fences with bees have also proved useful. Whenever elephants are entering into the farms of villagers, they would just ‘shake the hive and release the bees, sending the elephants’ away from farms. Such natural barriers can prove to be highly effective and hence can be emulated in India.
The government should ensure such policies that take to account the damage done to the livestock and crops. Timely compensation in such cases would help marginalized farmers to fulfil their needs. Therefore, compensation or insurance for animal-induced damage is an accepted solution. For instance, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) should start to cover the risks of crop damage due to wild animals.
Stern action must be taken against the persons who are involved in crimes against wildlife. Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and other legal actions need to be taken against poachers promptly so that it would serve as an effective deterrent to other would-be offenders.
There is a need for coordinated and collaborative conservation steps to ‘deliver meaningful results and allow communities to shift from conflict to co-existence with wildlife’. However, it also needs to be understood that there cannot be any one-size-fits-all approach to prevent such conflicts. Therefore, proper mechanisms have to be continuously developed by the forest officials with the equal participation of local communities by taking them into confidence. Because ultimately, we need to prioritize the mutually beneficial co-existence of both humans and wildlife.
To quote some words of wisdom from the book, ‘Rise and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem’:
“Every creature was designed to serve a purpose. Learn from animals for they are there to teach you the way of life. There is a wealth of knowledge that is openly accessible. Our ancestors knew this and embraced the natural cures found in the bosoms of the earth. Their classroom was nature. They studied the lessons to be learned from animals. Much of human behavior can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen”.
Let us bring an attitudinal change and adopt the theme “Celebrate Biodiversity” of the World Environment Day, 2020, in letter and spirit. Let us channelize our energies in making a better and inclusive world and let us accept the fact that animals also have all the right to live on this planet as it is their home too.