The problem of Man – Elephant conflict is more severe in the districts of Hassan and Madikeri where large herds of elephants can be seen roaming and marauding the farms especially in or near the forest areas damaging the valuable agricultural crops. At times there have been loss of human lives which only accentuates the problem taking this conflict to an entirely new level. Naturally people can tolerate the loss of agricultural crops but not the loss of their family members.
But then who is responsible for all this? It is we who have intruded into their territory, converting the forests into agricultural farms, growing crops and inviting the elephants to our doorsteps to come and have their stomach fill. Its we who have fragmented their habitat by making roads, dams and canals. We have honeycombed their habitat by our so called developmental activities eating into their homelands and this appetite of ours for their areas is only increasing day by day with the bulging human population.
The elephants in these areas seem to have a very peculiar habit. First they have their stomach fill. After that they roam around in search of arrack which is usually being distilled in local bhatties. The arrack or the distil waste gives them a nice kick and these drunken elephants are responsible for the loss of human lives. The tools employed by the forest department like bursting of crackers, gunshots or fire torches are too primitive to stop or scare away the marauding pack of drunken elephants.
The Man-Leopard conflict is more visible in the transition zone between dry plain lands and the green hilly areas. In the Chikmagalur district it is more a problem in the dry taluqa of Kadur particularly bordering villages of Kadur and Chikmagalur taluqa where the dry tract ends. Kadur is the place which earned a bad name for it about 10 years back. It was here where large number of panthers had to be shot and killed by employing and bringing so called sharp shooters from all over the state in search of an illusive so called man-eater panther.
The end result of all this hunting spree was that every day and night several panthers were shot and brought to the post mortem table, post mortem was carried out and the killed panther was declared innocent as no human remains could be detected inside till finally some human hair remnants were detected in one and then only this shooting spree came to a halt. It is debatable whether it was really required to kill such a large number of panthers which is an endangered species but perhaps the department had no means to identify the rrant panther and hence large number of panthers had to be killed in search of that illusive wayward one. Moreover at times one is driven by the urge to be seen as trying his best. Probably this urge opened the floodgates and gradually people took the law into their own hands thinking that why to wait for the forest department when they can themselves teach panthers a lesson. Same happened some time back. A family of a mother panther and its two grown up cubs was seen in the vicinity of a village.
They hunted a calf and ate it partially before they were chased away by the villagers. Once they left, the carcass of the calf was nicely poisoned. When the mother and the cub returned unsuspectingly next day, they consumed the remains and in the process died themselves. Leopards by nature tend to stray into the habitations in search of their kill. Their natural prey is becoming rare in the forests and the omnipresent cattle and dogs in the vicinity of the villages on the periphery of forest brings them in close conflict of the human beings.
In some other areas also few panthers have had to lose their lives being caught in the snares. These snares are fixed in the barbed wire fence of coffee estates, not necessarily by the estate owners but at times by their labour in order to catch wild boars or smaller animals. However it is the panthers and Sambars who have had to pay the price with their lives for their adventure in to the estates. The Man- Tiger conflicts are by and large restricted to the high forests and the coffee estates in the vicinity of forests in Chikmagalur district.
These conflicts also arise due to depredation by tigers on the cattle or getting entangled in the snares fixed in the fencings of the estates. Few tigers have been killed due to such snares. In Chikmagalur, Hassan, Kodagu and other Western Ghat districts Coffee plantations are an integral part of the topography. The conditions available in the coffee estates make them very close to look like forest. Presence of cattle in such areas makes them ideal hunting grounds for the tigers and leopards bringing them in direct conflict with the villagers.
Moreover there are large number of authorized and unauthorized muzzle loading guns available making it very difficult for the wild life to survive. Primary reason for all these conflicts is fragmentation of the wild habitat. Whereas few patches have been brought under the Conservation network by declaring them as National Parks or Sanctuaries, about 85-90% of the forest areas are still outside this network. While there can be no doubt that establishing this network has contributed significantly to wildlife conservation. But real problem is that even these networks are also fragmented.
Whereas total concentration in these parks and sanctuaries is on wildlife protection making the conditions ideal for wildlife, but what about the wildlife staying in forest areas outside these networks. Wildlife knows no boundaries. Creation of ideal conditions in sanctuaries has helped wildlife to multiply rapidly but where is the additional habitat required to take care of the additional population of animals, which tries to flow over to the adjoining areas only to get killed. This is particularly so with regard to the wild animals having territorial tendencies.
There is need to have a continuous conservation network with sufficient area and resources to take care of the progeny. Right now almost no effort is being made to take up wild life related management works outside the parks and sanctuaries. The lands outside the parks and sanctuaries (even inside also) are constantly under threat of encroachment. Honeycombing of the forestlands has already reached extreme. The tools employed by the government in reducing the Man and Wildlife Conflicts are highly insufficient and hence not producing desired results.
If we think that paying a few hundred or thousands Rupees to a person as compensation for crop damages by elephants or for a cattle killed by a leopard or tiger would save our wildlife from getting poisoned or shot, then it is nothing but our shortsightedness. Even this so-called wildlife compensation is paid to him after making innumerable trips to the concerned office. The farmer has to forego his earnings for each day he has to visit the office, he has to pay from his pocket for the bus charge and has to undergo physical strain …….
And what he gets is just few hundred rupees. Such hardships discourage him and in the process he gets encouraged to take the law into his own hands and to settle scores with his tormentor- the wildlife. There are only losers on both the sides. The Forest officials are also at times not acting in tandem. There is no coordination among the adjoining units. Particularly in case of elephant herds movements between the adjoining units it can be seen. Everybody wants to drive away the herds to another adjoining unit without giving any thought.
It only complicates the problems. Need of the hour is to have a stock of the real problem. And then only solutions can be found. We tend to take each problem in a routine manner. There is a tendency to leave the things to lower subordinates. The powers that be have to take everybody into confidence, discuss the issue threadbare and then have to take a conscious decision. A conscious policy decision need not be essentially sweet and liked by all but it may herald a new era where people and wildlife both can coexist beneficially.