Recently, the news has been rife with reports of human-wildlife conflict over various parts of India. Most of these reports originate from forest areas surrounding the Western Ghats in the south and also the state of Maharashtra as well as the north-western areas of the country. While there are many reasons for human-wildife conflict, here it is mostly because of new developments encroaching on forest lands and animal territories. Alongside humans, elephants and leopards are the most common animals victims to this conflict in India.
Recently, the Times of India covered a recent report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) which brought the light the extent of the problem in the state of Assam with data of killings by animals between 2009-2011.
“Within these three years, 290 people faced the wrath of the animals in Assam. Maharashtra topped the chart with 385 casualties in the category,” reads the report. Orissa is at third place with 229 human casualties by animals in the same time span.
Elephants on the march in India. Photo by Akhila Vijayaraghavan.
Shrinking forest cover is mostly to blame. The growth of tourism also means that resorts are being built very close to forest reserves and resort owners are using food to attract animals into their premises in an attempt to entice their guests to come again.
In fact, The Telegraph recently reported that a new study has found that leopards are becoming increasingly common in urban India. Researchers set up camera traps in 40 locations in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra to catch the range of urban wildlife on film. Their footage included 81 photographs of leopards, 65 hyenas, 20 jungle cats, three jackals and a fox. They established a population of eleven leopards (five adult males and six females) in an area of just over a hundred square miles.
One of the researchers, Vidya Athreya, of the Indian Conservation Society, told the Times of India that leopards would sit in fields less than a few hundred feet from houses – and that at night they would move in “to kill dogs, cats and goats,” she said.”Nowhere in the world have such large numbers of big predators been reported in such densely populated human landscape,” she added.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park is one of the largest parks in the world found the heart of a city, in this case Mumbai. However in spite of its proximity to dense human populations, the report says that there have not been attacks on people. A fully grown leopard needs an average space of 10 sqkm each. So, while there should be 11 or 12 animals in the forest, the National Park houses 21. The leopards prey on stray dogs instead of more wild fare. Due to the easy availability of this prey, they do not attack humans. However this has raised the concern that wild leopards could contract rabies.
This is true not only for Maharashtra but also areas of Tamil Nadu especially around Valparai where leopards stray into tea estates in search of easy prey. Elephants are also a source of concern here and locals have even come up with a cell-phone based warning system.
This is one encouraging sign that people are learning to keep out of the way of animals and respect their territory. However, on the flip-side, there is also a large degree of urban expansion. Unless a balance is found, human-wildlife conflict will unfortunately continue with rising challenges for both sides.