Western Ghats

Life in the Wild : Mitigating Human-Wildlife Conflict

Human-wildlife conflict occurs in many villages situated within and on the periphery of the MM Hills and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuaries. Spanning a total of 1,991 km², these two protected areas (PAs) are home to rich biodiversity and also support many human settlements. In scenarios where people and wildlife share the same resources and space, conflict situations can arise quite often due to various reasons.

Agricultural crops due to their better nutritional content can be huge attractants for elephants, wild boars and other herbivores. Livestock can be easy targets for large carnivores due to weaker anti-predatory instincts, and poor guarding practices. Human-wildlife conflict also occurs when people venture into forests to graze cattle, or gather forest produce like firewood and grasses.

Anthropogenic threats such as indiscriminate economic and infrastructural development, intentional forest fires, and overgrazing result in the loss, fragmentation, and degradation of wild spaces, putting pressure on already-shrinking habitats. Poaching, wild meat consumption, and a lack of awareness can also be other major reasons for human-wildlife conflict.

We have been working to equip local communities with creative conflict mitigation solutions to help both people and wildlife.

1. Solar-powered Lights

Many households settled along the periphery of the PAs do not have electricity connections because of the remoteness of these locations. Being so close to the forests, these families face frequent night-time visits from conflict-prone wild species like elephants, leopards and sloth bears. The villagers often store large haystacks and crops outside their homes where they also rear livestock. Elephants are commonly drawn to the haystacks and in the dark, and they end up damaging the surrounding property, causing huge losses.

Constant wild animal visits, coupled with the inability to spot them in the dark cause extreme anxiety and fear among the people. The remoteness and isolation of their houses make this situation even tougher to deal with, leading to resentment towards wildlife.

To mitigate this, we provide solar-powered lights to these families. Bright lights deter wild animals and illuminate the area outside so the people can spot an approaching wild animal and keep out of its way. These lights provide a sense of security and improve their quality of life by alleviating stress and anxiety. This initiative also brings in the social benefit of helping their children study at night.

2. Community solar-powered fences

The Cauvery-MM Hills landscape is an important habitat for Asian elephants, hosting a healthy elephant population. Given the large numbers of elephants in the region, the lives of people living in the surrounding villages are punctuated with frequent face-offs with elephants. While a few interactions have been harmless, many have resulted in the loss of lives, injuries, and major financial losses due to damage to homes and crops.

Based on inputs and requirements, we provided solar-powered electric fences to several farmers to collectively secure their farms as a community-based initiative. The initiative was introduced on a cost- and responsibility-sharing basis, with the project bearing 75% of the costs and the beneficiary farmers contributing 25% of the costs and labour, and being responsible for routine maintenance. Carrying a mild electric current, these fences have been successful in keeping wild herbivores such as elephants, wild boars and deer at bay.

The beneficiaries have reported better harvests and fewer losses resulting from wildlife incursions, with monetary losses reducing by nearly 58% annually. With a reduced need to keep watch, the farmers report better sleep, getting an average of eight hours of sleep per night as compared to an average of three hours before the installation of the fence. 87.5 % of the beneficiary families now report profits from the produce they grow, and store excess produce for their consumption throughout the year.

Human-wildlife conflict occurs in many villages situated within and on the periphery of the forests. Most of these communities are socio-economically underprivileged and the losses can be too much to bear