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Elephant Death, Kerala: It’s Time We Counter This Human-Wildlife Conflict Strategically

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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.

an elephant standing in water to relieve burns
Image source: Facebook

Why Did This Happen?

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.

What Is This 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.

Are We In The Anthropocene Epoch?

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.

What Can Be Some Viable Strategies To Counter These Human-Wildlife Conflicts?

Human wildlife conflict
There is a need for complete rethinking by humans to have a better world with peaceful co-existence with wildlife/ Photo: IUCN Save Our Species

These are some suggestions which can prove to be effective in minimizing the human-wildlife conflicts:

  • Usage Of Technology In Minimising 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 Pepper And Bees Fences 

‘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.

  • Crop Insurance And Compensation For Farmers

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.

Human-wildlife conflict
Stern action must be taken against the persons who are involved in crimes against wildlife/ Photo: Planet Custodian
  • Strict Action Under The Law

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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