Kerala tragedy offers a lesson – editorials
Kerala police arrested a man on Friday and detained another in connection with the recent murder of a pregnant elephant. The arrested man, an employee of a farm that grows cash crops and spices, reportedly told investigators that they set up a fruit trap filled with crackers to scare and possibly kill wild boars, which often destroyed their crops. While the killing of elephants is heartbreaking, the case points to a larger conservation challenge that India faces today: human-animal conflict. One hundred and forty-four people were killed between April 2014 and May 2017 because of this, as were many elephants, tigers, and leopards. Unfortunately, there is no government data on animal death due to human-animal conflict.
This conflict is growing. On the one hand, there is an explosion of human population, decreased forest cover, urbanization, poaching, increased road density, destruction of natural corridors and agricultural expansion. On the other hand, India is also home to the largest population of tigers, Asian elephants, leopards, and sloths, and these animals cannot be restricted within demarcated territories. With increasing demands for development (even disruptive projects in protected areas were eliminated during the national closure), the conflict will increase in the future.
It is not easy to strike the right balance between development needs and the preservation of the natural world, but, as studies show, there are ways to better manage the crisis. Monitor and evaluate conflicts between humans and wildlife and collect data on conflict situations, their causes and solutions; develop a long-term research, planning and policy / management framework; rethink land use planning (with enough space for humans and animals, buffer zones and wildlife corridors); strengthen community-based natural resource management; include communities in forest jobs such as ecotourism; compensate for the loss of lives, crops and livestock; and incentivize states that manage their natural heritage better than others. States should also have rescue units and animal crisis centers, adequate forestry professionals, veterinarians, and teams. As coronavirus disease shows, loss of natural habitats increases the risk of pandemics. This is not only due to the loss of biodiversity, but also because it forces animal species to venture into new terrain and collide with humans. The Kerala tragedy is a reminder of a better framework for dealing with conflict.