an attempt to reduce human-animal conflict

Guwahati, June 27: A few days ago, a distressing video surfaced online in which a leopard was seriously injured after being hit by a vehicle on the Pune-Nashik highway. The big cat was glued to the bonnet of the car trying to escape the situation in which its skin was ripped off resulting in serious injuries. This is just one example, in the past leopard deaths have been reported across the country due to excessive vehicle speeds.

As in the rest of the nation, human-elephant conflict is a regular affair in Assam, with several videos on social media showing how herds of elephants regularly enter human settlements in several parts of the state. In March this year, Environment and Forestry Minister Parimal Suklabaidya told the Assembly that as many as 924 people had been killed in human-elephant conflicts across Assam in the last decade, while 772 had been injured in such conflicts. In addition, elephants are long distance animals as a result of which they travel from one place to another and they often fall prey to electrocution, being run over by a train or facing the annual flood of floods. .

“Jumbos are gentle animals that prefer a calm atmosphere, but due to anthropogenic causes, the atmosphere is disturbed. In addition, habitat loss and the routes by which they travel have forced them into human settlements. Ultimately, when the trespass takes place, they become aggressive and that’s when a conflict erupts,” says Mubina Akhtar, wildlife activist.

“Corridors are chosen by animals, not humans”

When a disaster like a flood hits protected areas like Kaziranga National Park (KNP), wild animals in the area move to a safer or elevated area crossing highways and human settlements. Although there are designated corridors in the national park, different animals take different routes to reach their destination.

“When animals try to cross from one patch of forest to another, the road between the two forests can be called a corridor. Human beings cannot determine the corridors of animals because animals choose their own path, we have to identify these plots and roads and how often the plots are used by animals, in addition, one must monitor whether this plot has another connection with the forest and free it from any type of encroachment and maintain the places, thus offering safe passage for animals,” says Akhtar.

The lack of open spaces during the annual floods forces the animals to leave the park and take refuge in the mounds crossing the highway. As the animals leave the flood-affected park, the risk of being killed by poachers or being hit by vehicles while crossing the highway increases.

Ramesh Gogoi, Divisional Forestry Officer (DFO) of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve, explains that the wildlife corridors were identified after several years of studies considering various aspects including the regular movement of animals.

Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong are considered an important landscape. Most of the park is on the floodplains of the Brahmaputra River which flows near the northern boundary, with the hills of Karbi Anglong towards the southern boundary. However, the only barrier is National Road 37. “The Karbi Anglong hills as well as the KNP wetlands are integral to the survival of wildlife in this landscape,” Gogoi informs.

Preserve the corridors

Based on a petition filed by environmental activist Rohit Choudhury, the Supreme Court took cognizance of the illegal activities taking place near the corridors and banned any new construction on private land linking the KNP to Karbi Anglong Hills which are part of the nine wildlife corridors identified namely Amguri, Bagori, Chirang, Deosur, Harmati, Hatidandi and Kanchanjuri which fall in Nagaon district and Haldibari and Panbari in neighboring Golaghat district.

SC and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) intervened in order to protect the park as well as the landscape adjoining the park. These interventions include major directions involving a ban on mining in the Karbi Anglong hills, traffic management on the highway, and the removal of man-made obstructions in wildlife corridors, thereby freeing up animal movement in the countryside.

“Since Kaziranga is a World Heritage Site, there has been a proliferation of commercial establishments along the highway. In addition, traffic, traffic lights are also an additional disturbance to animals. Thus, these corridors must remain free from human intrusion and the environment is necessary for animals to cross paths with each other, and if we don’t keep these barriers away from animal crossing, the long term survival of animals will be difficult” , Gogoi explained while expressing his dismay at the growing threat to wild animals.

Although construction has been banned, there has been an upsurge in illegal construction in areas that have been demolished, Gogoi said.

“Several measures have been taken, including the installation of six sensor-based cameras, the issuance of challans and the setting of a maximum speed limit of 40 km/h for vehicles. Following the implementation of the measures , the risk of accidents has decreased significantly,” Gogoi said. .

The measures must meet the objective

According to reports, in 2021, a total of 24 animals died due to flooding in the park. Of the 24, six animals including a rhino, three hog deer, a wild buffalo, a swamp deer drowned in the park’s floodwaters. While 11 animals including nine pigs, a python and a cape langur died after being hit by vehicles on NH 37. Four animals including a rhino and three pigs died of natural causes. Three animals, including two hog deer and a swamp deer, died for other reasons during the flood.

This year, five animals were killed after being hit by vehicles while crossing the national road. These include a leopard and three deer. Another deer, rescued in the flood, later died. Three other hog deer, injured due to flooding, were rescued by park authorities. A python was also rescued without any injuries, according to reports.

“Although several restrictions have been put in place, animals are still dying, installing sensory cameras and imposing fines on speeding vehicles are acceptable. But this will only increase the government’s budget, what about the wildlife that perished?” asks Akhtar who is of the opinion that implementing the restrictions alone will not serve the purpose.

She further suggests that collective efforts by law enforcement officials, the forest department, wildlife experts and NGOs be made to alleviate the problem.

How feasible are highlands?

In KNP, there are a total of 144 artificial highlands. Thirty-three of them were built in 2019 and 111 in 1990. As claimed by the state government, the highlands were scientifically designed with provision for adequate grass and fruit-producing plants to save wildlife in KNP and other forests and provide them with shelter. during floods and reduce animal losses.

Speaking of the highlands, Akhtar informs that although they are feasible for large, small and slow moving animals, the indiscriminate construction of the highlands would rather obstruct the natural flow of water, thus aggravating the flooding situation. “The number of uplands required and the selection of sites for the uplands should be consulted with experts before carrying out any proposed work. Often doing things haphazardly can even destroy a good initiative,” says Akhtar.

Even though the highlands are not the solution for the animals, they act as a temporary shelter for the animals. “Although these are temporary shelters for the animal but their first priority is to move to the hills of Karbi,” Gogoi says.

Coexistence is necessary

There are several threatened species that contribute to various ecosystem services and support human well-being. When the environment degrades at the micro level, it definitely affects the ecosystem.

During floods, the focus is usually on large animals, but there are some endangered species like monitor lizards, pangolins, insects, reptiles, etc. which also cross the corridors. Moreover, people’s awareness is also limited because we often hear news that they are being killed by people. “The corridor complexes of Kaziranga and the landscape adjoining the Karbi hills which often serve as refuges for animals must be understood on a broader level. Conflict arises when the needs and behavior of wildlife negatively impact the or when human actions affect the Awareness must be done on the ground and in a massive way in order to promote the concept of coexistence”, concludes Akhtar.

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