Tackling the root cause of the growing problem is the only sustainable solution

Discussions: More than finding a solution, human-wildlife conflict, which is becoming a growing challenge in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, needs to be prevented.

At a discussion on “Taming human wildlife conflicts in the HKH: forest management or crisis management”, representatives from the region shared that, despite having several measures in place, human-wildlife conflict has been on the rise.

The issue is compounded with protected areas increasingly becoming isolated due to fragmentation of natural forest cover, infrastructure development and intensified agriculture disturbing the natural habitat of wildlife species.  Countries in the HKH belt, which include Bhutan, Nepal, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Pakistan, are facing similar conflicts with wildlife, such as leopard, black bear and wild dogs.

Wildlife Institute of India’s S Sathyakumar said human wildlife tensions are easier to prevent than solve; interventions should include management of attractants, education and awareness, and immediate compensation.

“It should also include physical barriers and wildlife deterrents and avoid negative encounters,” he stressed, adding traditional methods of keeping wild animals at bay, like beating empty metal containers and fencing would be effective protective measures against crop damage by wild animals.

Dr Dhananjai Mohan of Uttarkhand forest department suggested preventive measures, like barriers and removal of vegetation, monitoring of problem animals, better vigilance, alternate cropping, and capture or removal of problem animals.

While various panelists suggested measures, such as killing, hunting or culling of animals as the last resort, many participants disagreed.  Kunal Satyarthi of Forest Research Institute also said that capturing and relocating animals might not help solve the problem.

In Bhutan, Karma from the department of forest and park services (DoFPS) shared that electric or solar fencing has been the most successful measure, especially in keeping monkeys away from the fields.

“We designed our own local fabricated electric fencing that wouldn’t kill the wildlife species but prevent them from entering the farm,” he said

Yet, program director with DoFPS, Kinley Tenzin, said, wildlife conflict was still increasing like in any other South Asia countries, and no permanent solutions had been found.  He said with developmental activities rapidly increasing, rural-urban migration is also on the rise simultaneously, which, if not controlled, would aggravate wildlife conflict, which would keep increasing.

“When villages start getting empty, which is happening in Bhutan at a high rate, the village turns into a forest,” he said. “That’s how the wildlife comes closer to the remaining settlements.”

Kinley Tenzin said farmers could also kill within a distance of 200 metres of their farms. “But the compensation schemes have been challenging because the funds are mostly donated,” he said. “We don’t have our own measures in which community is involved, although we’ve been compensating farmers based on the severity of attack.”

To this, one of the panelists suggested Bhutanese communities adopt an insurance scheme, which has been successful in states like Himachal Pradesh, where farmers pay a fee that is compensated later for the loss of farm or livestock.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Dehradun