The series of articles on the subject of rural-urban migration – numbering seven so far – have mainly focused on the principal causes that contributed to this malady. While a number of other causes have aggravated the problem to a lesser degree, clearly the principal causes, in order of severity, can be attributed to:
1. Predation by wildlife;
2. Poor access to markets;
3. Education system; and
4. Lack of support and leadership in tackling the problem.
Predation by wildlife:
This is the biggest problem and needs to be tackled – head on! First and foremost, we need to begin by accepting that all that the government and the agencies concerned did so far has been to bury the problem by touting a convenient contradiction: human-wildlife conflict. For years the problem of predation by wildlife has been allowed to fester even while hoards of farmers abandoned farming and village homes heading to urban centers, in defeat and frustration. Most people in Thimphu know of the problem – they even speak about it and yet, do nothing about it.
In my opinion, the misnomer “human-wildlife conflict” misled a lot of policy makers in Thimphu into believing that there is a conflict between humans and wild animals. There is none!
Amend the rules:
We can begin with few basic steps. The simplest and easiest solution would be to amend legislations that give so much primacy to wildlife. Farmers must be given the right to defend and counter all acts of aggression by wildlife. This must me made a fundamental right of the farmers – the freedom to do what it takes, to protect their crop and livelihood. If the government isn’t willing to empower the farmers with this right, it should be prepared to compensate them for the crop loss caused by wildlife.
Farmers in the Eastern dzongkhags say that monkeys and wild boars represent the biggest threats to their crops. It is understandable. Some of our unthinking acts in the past have upset the point of balance, causing the equilibrium to be destabilized – thereby allowing the population of these animals to proliferate to such an extent that peaceful coexistence between them and humans is on the verge of becoming an impossibility.
Two of the most effective deterrents against uncontrolled growth of these wild animals are: wild dogs and humans. Unfortunately, in Bhutan they have both been rendered ineffectual.
Our wild dog population was nearly exterminated – through wholesale poisoning, few decades back. Thus without its natural enemy to check its population growth, the wild boar’s population exploded to such an extent that it became a menace – not only in Eastern Bhutan but in Western and Central Bhutan as well. It continues to be so, to this day.
Unlike in other parts of the world, our forests do not contain much of the monkey’s natural enemies – wild cats and large birds. Thus, the next best defense against uncontrolled growth of the monkey’s population should have been: men. Sadly, our laws do not permit human intervention. Thus the population of monkeys has been growing unchecked, to the extent that they now threaten to take over human dwellings and habitat.
From all accounts, solar fencing has proven to be a successful defense against wildlife predation – particularly against the nocturnal predators such as deer, wild boar and porcupine. However, it is expensive and beyond the reach of most villagers. On the other hand, it is just too expensive for the government to consider free distribution of the fencing materials.
Regardless, it should be possible for the farmers to finance the purchase of the fencing materials – on installment basis. Or, the government could provide the materials and collect reimbursement of cost in kind, upon harvest of the crops. We could also consider providing subsidy for the purchase of these fencing materials. The modalities of how this is to be implemented can be worked out in consultation with the local governments and village gups.
Given our landscape, solar/electric fencing cannot be the only solution. We need to redesign our traditional fencing methods to make them more effective towards invasion by wild animals.
Contributed by Yeshey Dorji
Photographer & Blogger