Human-Animal Conflict post COVID-19

Introduction

The COVID-19 lockdown has brought some happiness for animal lovers due to the unusual spotting of animals globally and in India in particular. The homebound netizens are happy to see the photos and are sharing and liking the photos. While people are happy at nature’s capacity to heal itself, we are not thinking about the flip side of these spotting i.e. what will happen when the restrictions are eased, when the human beings start their usual routine life? Who will be at the receiving end of the expected human–wildlife conflict?

1. Human-Wildlife Conflict

Though the human wildlife conflict is very old one, it is receiving more attention nowadays due to its increased frequency. Rise in population, urbanisation, clearing of forests which are the natural habitat, human intervention in their habitat, disruption of food chain are the most cited reasons for it. It has become a serious global concern now. As per IUCN SSC Human Wildlife Conflict Task Force –

“Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) occurs when animals pose a direct and recurring threat to the livelihood or safety of people, leading to the persecution of that species. Retaliation against the species blamed often ensues, leading to conflict about what should be done to remedy the situation.”[1]

We need to ponder over the effects of the HWC. It places the animals at a disadvantageous position. Either the animal is killed in the ‘revenge killing’ or in some cases captured and left in wild. In 2018, a six-year old tigress, Avni, accused of killing 13 human beings, was shot dead by a private hunter’s son in the Pandharkawada region of Maharashtra, this made people revisit the issues for a while.[2]

The reasons for revenge killing are very obvious. Killing of human beings, destruction of crops and property raids are common in certain areas. As per the data of Environment Ministry, 1608 human beings were killed between 2014 and 2017 due to this conflict. This makes an average of more than one human being every day[3]. Human-wildlife conflict numbers are also large in places proximate to forest lands. The State of Karnataka, which is a home to large number of tigers and elephants, witnesses more than 70 such conflicts in a day[4]. It is very difficult to gather data of the animals killed during the human animal conflict.

2. Position during lockdown

The lockdown brought a less imagined effect. Outside the normal habitats, Nilgai has been seen in Noida, spotted deer in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh; elephants in Haridwar, Uttarakhand; civet in Kozhikode,  Kerala; peacocks in Mumbai’s Khareghat Parsi Colony in Tardeo,  Maharashtra; one-horned rhino in Sonapur Town, east of Guwahati, Assam; leopard in Chandigarh, dolphins in the waters off Marine Drive, Malabar Hill, also the fresh water dolphin  in the rivers in Mathura and Calcutta[5]. The flamingos in Mumbai became a reason of joy for people of Mumbai with netizens sharing the pictures of the beautiful pink seashore.

To begin with this new expansion of old territory by way of peacefully reclaiming the public places was welcomed by the people as it brought enthusiasm during the lockdown in some cases for example, peacock, deer, dolphin. It also brought some anxiousness in cases of leopard, rhino and elephant. Within four weeks of the lockdown the news of the increasing fondness for human habitat and human deaths started coming. The only difference lies in the fact that these spottings are not being reported as a conflict issue because of lack of human movement.

What are the possible reasons – the pin drop silence of lockdown, less human intervention, sudden reduction of air and noise pollution, need for water due to onset of summer are some of the causes. The animals who have different intelligence than humans are finding this silence an easy reason for expansion of their territory. They are not here to know our whereabouts as jested by netizens. This misconception will cause more human animal conflict in the not very distant future. This is expected to increase in summer due to the easy availability of water resources in human habitat during the lockdown.

The animals with differently abled senses and instincts were earlier out of bound of these urban jungles due to other mechanical animals, with wheels on the roads and streets creating noise and sounds. The other fliers wondered what’s wrong; the big metal birds seldom flew now and thus resulting in silent skies. This gave the opportunity to the other members of the forest, the curious, the hungry, the thirsty ventured out.

Easy availability of food due to standing crops will pose another threat. With standing crops and no farm labour to guard, the animals ventured and feasted on the corn cob, and the wheat, the mustard.

Animals in a forest are counted in a watch tower next to a water source where all the animals of the forest take turn to come and quench their thirst. With approaching summer and hotter days, the animals smelled fresh water from far and trekked towards it. The polluted rivers and streams, bustling ghats were not the most preferred location for the animals in proximity. But now with industries shut and the effluent discharge having stopped, the stream’s water quality has improved. This attracts the animals, a wild elephant was attracted to a ghat in River Ganga, bathing in the clean and holy waters, it was chased away by the police; a lockdown is lockdown after all.[6]

3. Challenges post-lockdown restrictions

We must approach the issue with lot of caution. Will the animals retreat to their habitats after lockdown with the same ease? The peaceful reclamation has its own reason – lack of human interference. Moreover the humans are not reacting to the spotting aggressively. Post-lockdown, when the human movement increases, there are clear chances of an increase in human-wildlife conflict. This newly understood freedom during the lockdown would affect the different animal species depending on their vulnerability and level of ferocity. We need to treat the cases of animals like leopard and animals like dolphins differently. Both are not dangerous to human life and well being. The report of human deaths is coming due to wild animals like tigers, bears, leopards, etc. We need to sensitise people to report their presence so that they can be captured and left in their habitat. This is essential to save human life and also prevent ‘revenge killing’.

There is also a category of animals like dolphins, peacocks, deers, flamingos, turtles, etc. We need to have a different approach for them. In general, they do not harm human beings. In fact there is a chance of their becoming an object of human greed. They need to be protected and stopped from venturing into the human habitat.

Both man and animal are at a face-off and are at risk at this time of public health emergency. It is speculated that COVID-19, jumped from a bat to a civet and then the Wuhan seafood market became the ground zero for the virus. The civet spotted in Kozikhode followed rules and crossed the road at a zebra crossing[7].  But health risk linked to the virus is a risk of grave proportion. Sensitivity is needed on account of the fact that the animal on the other end could be an endangered species.

In such cases Sections 428[8] and 429[9]  IPC, Sections 16(c) and 38(j) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972[10] might be applicable depending upon the case. Also, it depends on where the animal has been placed in the Schedules to the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

Conclusion

Wildlife experts have always blamed the human intrusion for man-animal conflict. As the animals started losing their habitat and food due to unplanned development, they started venturing in human settlements. Unplanned development has been termed as the foremost reason since it was never animal inclusive. We are the intruders. We have occupied their spaces, they have reclaimed them when we moved indoors. Animals love quiet spaces. The silence of the lockdown is allowing them to venture.

The entire scenario has increased the burden of the forest officials. Whether it is the ferocious cats or the friendly deers, they will get overburdened with work to protect them. We must also not forget that if the Government does not take immediate steps, the human victims prefer to approach the poachers, who take immediate steps. We need to start community awareness and sensitisation in the places of expected conflict during the lockdown period. People need to be made aware of the helpline numbers, in case they observe an animal around. We must show the necessary compassion to the animals so that we do not pay the cost of development after the lockdown. A holistic approach is required to prevent animal fatalities post-lockdown.

One more challenge is the probability that poaching or attacks by the locals might get reported as an accident.

Out of all the animals, man has been at the top of the cognitive level, controlling nature for its needs and wants including food, water and habitat. COVID-19 created an unprecedented scenario, where the king was caged in the urban jungle.


*Professor and Associate Dean (Academics), Asian Law College, Noida.

**Assistant Professor, TERI School of Advanced Studies, Delhi.

[1] http://www.hwctf.org/about , visited on 21st  May, 2020

[2] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/tigress-avni-believed-to-be-responsible-for-the-deaths-of-13-people-killed-in-maharashtras-yavatmal-1942186 , visited on 21st May, 2020

[3] https://theprint.in/india/governance/human-animal-conflict-is-clear-present-danger-and-india-cant-afford-to-ignore-it/147105/ , visited on 20th May, 2020

[4] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/karnataka-sees-77-human-wildlife-conflicts-daily/articleshow/74201379.cms ,visited on 20th May, 2020

[5] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/coronavirus-lockdown-unusual-sightings-of-animals-in-india/nilgai-in-noida/slideshow/75230929.cms , visited on 20th May, 2020

[6] https://www.dailypioneer.com/2020/state-editions/jumbo-takes-a-dip-in-ganga-at-har-ki-paidi.html , visited on 20th May, 2020

[7] https://www.livemint.com/news/india/small-indian-civet-roams-on-streets-of-kozhikode-thanks-to-lockdown-11585328726710.html ,  visited on 20th May, 2020

[8] Section 428 IPC

[9] Section 429 IPC

[10] Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972  


Image Credits: News18.com

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