By K.R. Rajeev
KOZHIKODE: The existing measure to mitigate man-animal conflict in the forest-fringed district of Wayanad have failed miserably, said a report by greens and wildlife scientists. The report submitted to the state and central governments has called for introduction of more participatory and community- based mechanisms to address the issue.
The report was prepared on the basis of first ever grassroots level stock taking of the increasing man- animal conflict held in Wayanad recently, which saw the participation of various stake holders including farmers, forest officials, scientists and people's representatives .
The report was prepared under the guidance of experts including P S Easa, director in charge of KFRI, Dr. Surendra Varma of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and based on feedback and discussions held with grassroots-level stake holders including farmers.
The study called for a radical shift in the government's approach to the problem, which currently is focused mainly on handing out compensation for crop losses and recommended a more community based approach.
"The practice of granting compensation to crop losses has had an undesirable effect as it led to creating a wrong message among people that forest and wildlife conservation was the responsibility of government alone. Even people who had traditionally co-existed with wild animals had a change of perception after the introduction of the project," Dr. Easa said in the report.
Wayanad alone had around 4,000 compensation claims filed in 2012-13 in wildlife related incidents and forest department had hiked the compensation rate in 2013.
He said that instead of handing out crores of rupees as compensation for crop losses, farmers should be encouraged to take over the responsibility of guarding over their crops with government paying allowance for it.
The report said that the wildlife population in the 344 sq km Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary has increased considerably in recent years, which have been substantiated by the studies done in neighborhood Muthumala sanctuary. The report called upon the government to undertake a similar wildlife count in the sanctuary, which has not undertaken any such exercise recently.
The report lists 11 major causative factors which have contributed to the increased man-animal conflict in Wayanad including destruction of forest habitat due to human interference and fragmentation of forest, recurring forest fires, increased cattle farming activity near the forest fringe villages and blocking of traditional elephant corridors in the forests due to new roads and development projects.
"Though the tribals and local villagers are not engaged in cattle rearing in significant numbers any more, a large number of commercial buffalo farms have mushroomed around WWF which have flooded the sanctuary with over 25,000 buffaloes which are decimating the grass lands of the sanctuary," the report states.
The reports stated existing mechanisms like setting up of protective barriers such as solar fences had failed miserably as they had become inoperative due to lack of maintenance and the poor quality of material used. "Also the unscientific construction of elephant-proof trenches without any facility for water drainage has led to extensive trench collapses in Wayanad. Instead farmer collectives can be provided for undertaking such works on their own, on condition that they would not be eligible for any compensation for crop loss," the report said.
The rising man animal conflicts had evolved into a highly emotive issue threatening conservation initiatives in the district, which has the highest forest cover of 36% in the state.
Interestingly, the suggestions in the report had the full consent of the farmer representatives, who were part of the initiative.