Mansoor covers a wide canvass on an interesting ecological issue dealing with wildlife management
(Dr. Mir M. Mansoor, 54, was born in Shopian. He completed his schooling from the M.L. Higher Secondary School in Shopian. He attended the Government Degree College in Anantnag, receiving his B.Sc. degree in Natural Sciences, and subsequently received a degree in Bachelor of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry (BVSc & AH) from the Ranchi Veterinary College, Rajindrea Prasad University, Bihar. He has received mid-career post-graduate training in Advanced Wildlife Management (AWM) at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and a post-graduate diploma in Conservation Breeding & Management of Endangered Species (CBME)from the University of Kent at Centerbury, U.K. Dr. Mansoor is the Chief Wildlife Biologist (Veterinary) in the J&K State Wildlife Protection Department. He has received the “Bharat Jyoti” Award and the “Glory of India” Gold Medal and has 30 publications to his credit. In his leisure time, he enjoys nature photography, travel and browsing on internet.)
Man-Wild Animal Conflict in J&K State
Human history is witness that man and wildlife have had an intimate relationship. In the beginning, man used to be a prey for big predators just like other prey animals and a competitor for herbivores. With the passage of time, and the advent of tools and weapons, man himself became a successful predator and the wild animals became his prey, which he exploited as a resource. But, during the course of time equilibrium was established, when he became a cultivator. His crops and domestic livestock acted as a powerful lure for wild animals, while man was able to snare, trap or shoot them either in the act of preying, feeding, or while they hung around his fields. As bulk of the animals still lived far away from human habitation and the hunting methods were simple. There was little or no trade in wildlife and its derivatives. The number of animals killed was not large enough to endanger their existence. But with the advent of automatic guns, vehicles, new techniques of agriculture and increasing scope for the trade in wildlife products, the equation got vitiated.
In Jammu and Kashmir like other states in India, the interface between man and wildlife narrowed down as the explosion in human population in the 20th century pushed human settlements deep into the remotest parts of our wilderness. The entire countryside became a neighbourhood of man and wildlife. There was little legal protection for animals in the colonial times, with the result wildlife lost its habitat to agriculture and huge numbers to hunting and poaching. Though the official response to this drastic loss came in the form of promulgation of various rules and regulations to regulate hunting, at the national level in the form of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 (WPA) which created a strong framework for directing the future conservation efforts of the country.
However, Jammu and Kashmir State, due to its special status, promulgated its own law called Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978, though, the act was almost similar to Central Act. The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 was founded on the fact that wildlife is a natural resource which could be preserved if consumed carefully. It proposed creation of a set of graded protected areas, namely national parks, sanctuaries, closed areas and game reserves, where animals were to be fully protected while prescribing conditions under which animals could be hunted and traded in other areas. However, with the passage of time central wildlife act kept on upgrading from time to time through various amendments, which was not the case with the J&K WPA-1978, resulting into a great void and clash in managing the wildlife resources of the state. Ultimately, the J&K WPA-1978, was amended and updated in 2002 thereby filling up the void, which proved a milestone in managing the J&K State wildlife resources.
It is clear that conservation comes at a cost but the costs are distributed unevenly in the society. The government bears the limited cost of maintaining the staff and developing the infrastructure. This cost is negligible when compared with the direct and indirect costs incurred by the local people in terms of lost economic opportunities, crop raiding and livestock depredations. For example in Jammu and Kashmir 101 human deaths, 680 human injuries took place during the period from 2004-2008. In addition there have been some reports of considerable number of cattle depredations by common leopard (in and adjacent to forest areas of Jammu and Kashmir) snow leopard and Tibetan wolf (Ladakh & Kargil areas) and crop raiding especially by black bears, porcupines and monkeys, which generally goes unreported, as there is no record of the extent of damage to crops so far. During the said period 100’s of wild animals, mostly black bears in south Kashmir and common leopards in north Kashmir got also killed in retaliation.
Like many other states, in J&K State also we go for paying some kind of ex-gratia amounts for the injury and loss of human lives, but no such provision exists for compensating livestock depredation and crop damage losses. There are neither attempts to estimate and compensate these costs, nor efforts to alleviate these problems and minimize the costs. Due to inherent conflict between the conservation programmes and the local people, there is little popular sympathy left for wild animals. Some urban elite, the environmentalists and the conservation agencies are the only ones who support conservation. The local people, at the most, want their forests protected but do not want wild animal species in their neighborhood, to which they loose their crops, livestock or some times life of their nears and dears. It is almost impossible to convince them of the reasons for protecting these wildlife species, except as a vague righteous belief in the right of all living beings to live. But in the face of the severe economic hardships that these animals perpetrate, even these traditional beliefs do not stop them from killing these animals.
Estimation of Crop Damages:
Although no studies on the quantification of damage are available in Jammu and Kashmir, even empirical guesstimates suggest that the quantum and spread of this damage is quite astounding. However, before going into further discussion in this regard, it is very essential to clear the minds of some progressive thinkers about a common myth that the man-wild animal conflict is a result of over abundance of some wild animal species. Generally, this expression is used with reference to situations where wild animals cause extensive damage to life and property of man. The perception that there are over-abundant wildlife populations of some species is not well founded. The notion of abundance is based on the fact that wildlife causes widespread damage to human interests, not based on their numbers. The reality is that wildlife is not at all abundant outside a few high profile protected areas like National Parks and Sanctuaries; it only looks abundant on the basis of the damage it causes to our crops, property and life.
A rapid survey, based on interviews with villagers, was conducted in some north and south Kashmir villages near forests in 2008-09 to assess the crop and livestock damage by wild animals. The data suggested that maize, fruits, (including dry fruit like walnuts), vegetables, especially potatoes, turnips, carrots etc. are the crops which are generally damaged by wild animals. The list of raiders most of the time included black bears porcupines and monkeys. Such crop damage attributed to wild animals was found gradually decreasing in village beyond 1.5 kms from the forest boundary. Although these exercises were empirical, but gave us an idea of enormity of the problem. It is obvious that the actual damage to crops, coupled with the opportunity cost of protecting the crops is so high that it deserves a serious attention of the authorities. Equally serious is the loss of quality of life of the people of the vulnerable villages in terms of lost comfort and sleep. Spending close to 100 nights, year after year, perch precariously built machans in cold and wet weather must be a very exasperating experience.
It is obvious from the above that wild animals, both herbivores and predators are a serious issue in the lives of the rural people, especially the tribal communities and other poorer sections. While predators have to pay the price in terms of poisoning, snaring and in some cases electrocution deaths. Therefore, it becomes mandatory for us as wildlife managers to deal the problem not only as conservation oriented one but as socio-economic one as well.
There are some fallowing mentioned possible strategies which can prove a better deal if applied to address the man-animal conflict problem in the state.
As long as man and animals share common habitats, damage to life and property of humans is inevitable. It is true that the extent of damage depends upon the density of the problem populations around croplands and human habitations. The preventive strategies can be based on either keeping the numbers of animals low or putting barriers (both physical and psychological) between the wild animals and croplands / human habitations. Since, in most of the Indian states including Jammu and Kashmir human habitation is intimately interspersed with wildlife habitats, therefore putting fences on forest or PA boundaries may be worthwhile at only very few locations.
Another option can be putting power fences around vulnerable villages, leaving corridors for wild animals between the power fences. In fact, a combination of both the approaches, based on site-specific requirements, will have to be adopted.
Scientific management of predator populations is of critical importance to their well being, as otherwise, the populations may explode in already shrunken habitats and push themselves, and their sympatric species, into extinction, by destroying their own habitat and prey base. Population management is all the more important in situations where these populations earn human hostility by damaging their life and property. The problem animals outside PAs, where they are in serious conflict with local human interests are in serious and imminent danger of being wiped out, because they are not wanted there. These problem animals can only be saved if they lose their nuisance value or turn into a positive resource for the people concerned. Translocation (with least impact), culling and sport hunting are the only solutions for managing populations.
Translocation of wild animals is a routine activity in some African and European countries as the technique is mainly used for trading animals and stocking new protected areas or private game reserves. But, in India, as a whole, we hardly have so far considered translocation of wild animals at such a large scale. However, any translocation at a reasonable scale could only result into temporary relief by shifting or avoiding the problem for some time, as in most of the individual problem animal translocation cases, either the problem animal has reiterated back to its original habitat or has repeated to create problems at its new place of release.
Culling term is more often used to describe an operation when management agencies decide to kill large numbers of animals, of selected age and sex, to balance the population size, or its growth rate, to suit the available habitat. But, the issue is what to do with dead animals in the light of the legal prohibition against utilizing the products of culling for consumption or trade.
c. Sport Hunting
Sport hunting, through permits, is the only viable way of managing wildlife populations in the long run. Hunting is one of the most popular recreation activities in the world for which people are ready to pay any amounts of money. Wild animals near human habitations are generally being killed by local people through poisoning, snaring, or in some cases by deliberate electrocution. Besides, occasional permits are also issued by the wildlife department for killing problem animals, who otherwise could pose serious threat to life and property of people. If such animals are officially harvested, which otherwise become victim of retaliatory killing, and share the returns with the communities, the same animals can become a source of revenue. This will tend to minimize poaching as the local people will have an incentive in guarding the animals.
Where the damage to life and property of man is inevitable, it becomes mandatory for the state governments to compensate these losses because by feeding the animals on their crops or domestic livestock or killing the humans, the farmers are directly bearing the cost of maintaining our wildlife, at least partially. Many state governments have compensation schemes in place but generally prefer to call it ex-gratia because the amounts offered are not comparable to the losses incurred.
In most cases, the system of investigations before a payment can be made is so cumbersome that it is hard to imagine any money reaching the affected people at all. Therefore, the schemes are not really serving their obvious purpose of controlling the hostility of the people against wildlife. As everybody knows that the poorest people are already paying the cost, it is reasonable for the government authorities to set norms and fix some criteria for footing such bills. Though it sounds utopian, such systems already exist in the western countries. In Great Britain no assessment of actual loss is required as the loss will depend on the number of birds/wild animals seen in a private property.
Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1978 (amended up to 2002) in its current form does not support any population management options. Section 11 gives a very restrictive definition of ‘Scientific management’ of wildlife as ‘translocation of any wild animals to an alternative suitable habitat’ or ‘population management of wildlife without killing or poisoning or destroying any wild animals’. Section 10 (1) (b) of the Act, permits hunting of wild animals belonging to Schedule II, III and IV, if they become dangerous to human life and property, including standing crops. There is a glaring contradiction between these two sections. What section 10 permits us in terms of permitting ‘hunting’ problem populations, section 11 has taken it away by putting serious constraints on the term ‘management’. As we have no expertise in mass translocation of wild animals, we are in no position, at all, to manage our problem populations. However, we can hunt these populations to their extermination without calling it ‘management’ as section 11 permits hunting in all its expressions, such as killing, poisoning and destroying etc. Hunting and translocation are the only tools for scientific management of wildlife. But, while translocation is an emergency response in selected situations, hunting is a routine operation for managing wildlife populations all over the world. By outlawing hunting we have almost totally eliminated any chances of serious attempts at alleviating the suffering of forest dwelling communities.
Scientific management of wildlife is a tool to draw maximum benefits from this resource as well as to minimize the losses due to human wildlife conflict. These benefits can be drawn only through a system of ownership, utilization and trade of wildlife products such as meat, trophies etc. The Act does not permit any of these enterprises. Under such circumstances, management of populations, over abundant or not, is irrelevant.
In response to the wide spread hue and cry against crop damage by nilgai, wild pig and black buck, in many Indian states, such as UP, MP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, etc. have already permitted their hunting, except black buck, under severe restrictions. Madhya Pradesh has permitted killing of nilgai and wild pig but as per reports no one has applied for permission because of impossible and impractical conditions imposed.