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High Death Toll: Human-Animal Conflict in Kerala Sparks Protests

Nearly 30 percent of Kerala is forested and there are several human settlements and farmlands near the forests.

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Over 640 lives were claimed by human-wildlife conflict in Kerala in the last five years. But still there is no concrete plan to address the threat, said the residents of Wayanad, questioning the Kerala government. For the past two months, Idukki, Wayanad, and Palakkad districts have seen protests highlighting the rise in loss of lives due to man-animal conflict and the need for immediate government intervention.

Why?

Nearly 30 percent of Kerala’s geographical area is forested, and there are several densely populated human settlements and farmlands near protected forests.

Over 30 lakh people are living on the periphery of 23 protected forests spread across 115 densely populated panchayats in Kerala. In the past year, locals have reported a rise in the number of elephants trespassing the fields and main roads, chasing vehicles and raiding shops and monkeys, flying squirrels, and wild boars ravaging crops.

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When Wayanad Shutdown To Protest

On 31 January, hundreds of people, including women, children and senior citizens, held placards and banners, raised slogans and sat on Sulthan Bathery-Ayiramkolly Road seeking a permanent solution to the wildlife menace in Wayanad district's Ponmudikotta.

Around 15 domestic animals including goats had been reportedly killed by tigers in the last two months in the village. An agitated villager, who took part in the protest, said it is a do-or-die battle for them.

"This protest march and siege are just part of our token strike. If authorities are not ready to open their eyes, we will lay siege to the office of the District Forest Officer and the national highway in the next phase," he told media.

The Opposition in Kerala, on 1 February, accused the government of not having a proper plan to address and prevent the increasing incidents in areas bordering forests.

The Left government has not done a scientific study to decide on the further course of action, said V D Satheesan, Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the state Assembly. He also alleged that the government didn't have any data on the State’s wildlife population.

What does the data on animal attacks show?

According to data shared by the state's chief wildlife warden in response to an RTI application, in the last five years, there have been 640 deaths caused by animals, of which 105 deaths were caused by elephant attacks.

A total of 1,040 people have been injured, 621 farmers' lands have been destroyed and 966 complaints have been filed in the forest department. The total loss amounts to over Rs 3 crores.

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The Human Cost of Wildlife Conflict

A local from Wayanad told The Quint that most farmers are dependant on banks loans for growing crops and when they don't get a yield because of the animals ravaging the crops, they are unable to repay the loans.

The government has put in place a mechanism to grant compensation. But only those who have insured their crops under the scheme are eligible to apply.

The person has to report the incident with visual evidence, submit an application through the agriculture information management system, and then officials will assess the damage.

Many also alleged that the compensation is not proportional to the labour of a farmer and the market rates. A senior officer in the forest department told The Quint that "while there are compensation packages granted by the government, there are not enough prevention measures to keep the issue under control."

The Quint spoke to officers in the wildlife sector who said that the cause of the rising number of incidents reflected Kerala’s success with wildlife conservation. The state’s wildlife conservation laws and projects have resulted in a surge in the number of tigers, elephants and other wild animals in the past six months.

Divisional Forest Officer P Karthick told NewsLaundry, "The pattern of cropping has changed – this is the main reason why monkeys enter the area. There are cashews, but there are also new crops that are attractive to wildlife. The inappropriate disposal of bio-waste is another major factor, which draws not only monkeys but also other wild animals. They might multiply once there is an abundance of food."

He also pointed out that encroachments of elephant corridors and animal habitats have led to this. Kerala is also planning to research more on why the animals are entering the residential areas.

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What Has the Government Done So Far?

The Kerala government stated that it has constructed solar fences and moats around vulnerable areas and wildlife enforcers culled more than 2000 wild boars in 2021.

AK Saseendran, minister for forests and wildlife protection, said the state has also initiated a study to examine the issue and suggest remedies.

In July 2020, the forest department installed palmyra bio-fencing on the forest periphery, but an RTI revealed that only 222 palmyra plants of the 4,000 that were planted survived. He said the affected states should urge the Parliament to amend the Indian Wildlife Act, 1972, in tune with the current ground reality, as the state “cannot act alone.”

Is sterilisation a possible solution? AK Saseendran said on 19 January, the government might consider solutions including sterilisation or culling to check the number of tigers. This comment came after an outrage over the death of a farmer in a tiger attack in Mananthavady forest range in the Wayanad district.

The minister clarified that this suggestion came from the locals. Earlier, the West Bengal government had come out with a ruling to curb the increasing population of wild animals, though the Supreme Court had impeded the move.

But what do experts have to say? Dr Ullas Karanth, a tiger expert, told BBC that the population of tigers only increased by a thousand over the past five decades, and so population control will not resolve the issue.

However, Sajeev Velayudhan, Chief Scientist at Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), told The New Indian Express that he supported ecologist Madhav Gadgil’s suggestion of licensed killing to regulate population explosion of wild animals.

“The issues the state is facing now are a result of doing something with too much perfection. We created a situation where none would dare enter forests. As part of conservation, we protected elephants, tigers and other animals. Now, their population has increased considerably,” he said. He added that moving tigers out of Wayanad can only be seen as an intermediate solution.

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Topics:  Kerala   Tiger   Wayanad 

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