Human-wildlife conflict has been a growing concern globally, especially in the last few decades. We are coming across more wild animals in towns and cities, which can create nightmarish situations if predators like leopards enter crowded residential areas. What exactly is human-wildlife conflict?
The earth is 70% water and 30% land, all of which is not habitable. Our global population has crossed 7 billion and continues to increase unabated. We have stretched the planet to its limits as we continue to exhaust its natural resources. Not being part of nature’s food chain and treating diseases has led to the explosive expansion of our population.
We are left with no choice but to encroach increasingly into the habitat of animals to accommodate ourselves and meet our perpetually expanding needs. “There is enough for everybody’s needs but not for anyone’s greed” are wise and enduring words from Gandhi about nature which we have conveniently ignored.
The problem here is with the word conflict and we have only ourselves to blame for the situation we are in. A conflict is an ongoing issue between two or more parties having similar levels of intelligence. Animals do not have our level of intelligence then why do we say animals are in conflict with us?
Moreover, did representatives of animals participate when the term human-wildlife conflict was coined and did they indicate that animals are in conflict with us? Human-wildlife conflict is purely a human construct and we created it because of our lack of understanding about nature in general and animals in particular.
Animals are not eating our crops and livestock and wandering into our settlement areas to harm us or cause us any damage. Animals have two fundamental needs, to eat and reproduce. Only when they get enough food can they reproduce and if they don’t reproduce, they will become extinct.
Natural instincts inherent in them by these needs are driving them towards us in search of food. Our crops, plantations and livestock are easily available food sources for them.
I am part of a birding community on social media. Some members were complaining about elephants causing damage to houses and walls at night when they came to eat ripe jackfruit and peafowl and wild boars destroying crops.
I pointed out that elephants came at night to not disturb the people. They did not intentionally damage houses and walls. They do not know the purpose of houses and walls as they themselves do not do any construction.
We have instances where elephants entered a banana plantation farm and destroyed it but left one untouched because there was a bird’s nest on it which had chicks in it. So I keep telling people that to understand animals, we need to look at them from their level of intelligence and not our own.
My mom feeds a variety of birds every day that includes Crows, Mynas, Cuckoos, Treepies, Bulbuls, Babblers and Coucals. What is interesting about watching them eat is, even when they feed on the rice and chapati (Indian bread) pieces, they are on the lookout for worms and insects.
As their habitat area keeps shrinking, they cannot stay adamant about eating their regular diet. Indian Paradise Flycatchers are usually seen in wooded areas where there is a lot of green covers. My ancestral house used to be covered with trees and when I recently showed photos of the Flycatcher to my mom, she immediately said they used to come to our house.
With the town’s development, they have kept moving away into wherever the wooded areas are and have gone far away from the town area.
While some birds and animals adapt to us, the ones that don’t will find it difficult to survive with the steady loss of habitat. This in itself will cause a huge imbalance in nature’s ecosystem as the population of some animals will rise and others will fall exponentially.
Peafowls primarily reside in hot and dry areas such as Rajasthan. They were first spotted in Kerala some 50 years back. From that time, their population has been exploding across the state, which is an alarming cause of worry as it is a clear indicator that Kerala is becoming drier and hotter.
What we are seeing is animals being forced to adapt to us or face the prospect of extinction. Peafowls and wild boars are invading our crops because, ironically, after snatching away their habitat, we have given them easier food sources with our cultivation, increasing their population.
Instead of understanding the situation and empathising with them, we treat them as threats to us and kill them.
Where do we go from here and what is the way forward? We cannot destroy nature and survive on the planet. We need to reduce our population drastically and there is no way to do it. A global war will destroy the planet itself.
The only plausible solution is to learn as much as we can about our planet, use our knowledge of technology to find another planet that resembles earth, make it habitable (using the process of terraforming) and escape from here. Earth has survived five mass extinction events in the past and with our actions, we have kickstarted the sixth mass extinction event.
According to scientists and researchers, 99.9% of all lifeforms that ever existed on earth have become extinct. Lifeforms become extinct and new ones take their place. We do not need to conserve nature to protect trees and animals. We needed to protect nature for our own survival, but we did not understand this.
When we created plastic, we never cared to check if it is biodegradable before commercialising its use. When we created tar and concrete, we didn’t bother to check if they can absorb water and push it down into the mud. After all the damage has been done now, we are clamouring about plastic waste and floods in cities.
The damage we have done to ensure our survival on earth is far greater than our current understanding and there is no going back from where we are now. It is either escape or extinction.
A friend told me that we would end up destroying the planet we go to as well. Most probably, we won’t. When we get something without any effort, we usually take it for granted and destroy it because we never understand its value. When we make an effort to build a planet for our own survival, we will treasure it.