Human-wildlife conflict is a growing problem in India. Where possible, what can be done to prevent animals coming into contact with people, or ensure a more symbiotic relationship where interactions are likely?
Conflicts between humans and animals have negative impacts for both sides. People suffer crop damage, depletion of livestock and destruction of property, and sometimes even lose their lives in such encounters. On the other hand, this also results in destruction of habitat and the collapse of wildlife populations, and intensifies negative human attitudes towards wildlife, which can also lead to violent and brutal consequences for wildlife species that are caught in human-wildlife encounters.
In an attempt to overcome this growing challenge, we have made it our responsibility to educate not just the local communities, but also the younger generation living in human-wildlife conflict zones about their surrounding environment and the animals that are a part of it. Our teams conduct awareness programs to educate the public about using techniques for avoiding and resolving human-wildlife conflicts. These teams also encourage responsible community participation in various conservation initiatives through our centres in Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Agra, Bannerghatta and New Delhi.
Aside from the so-called “charismatic megafauna” like the Bengal tiger and Asian elephant, are there any lesser-known threatened species in India today which face conservation challenges that you think deserve greater attention?
Species like the Indian mongoose and honey badger as well as owls, monitor lizards, etc. all need attention. The Indian star tortoise is another species that is vulnerable and perhaps the most trafficked tortoise species in the world owing to the unique star-like radiating pattern on their carapace (shell). It is also poached for meat and body parts, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine, while live animals are sold into the exotic pet trade. An estimated 20,000 Indian star tortoises are poached from the wild in India each year to meet the demand for the illegal wildlife trade.
India is also home to two species of pangolin – the Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla). Both species are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the Indian pangolin is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red Data List, whereas the Chinese pangolin is listed as Critically Endangered.
Pangolins in India are severely persecuted and are one of the most trafficked and endangered species, and sadly much sought-after by poachers and traffickers. The awareness about this species is poor and as a result of this ignorance the animal is trafficked more easily. These reasons are boosted by the increasing demand for the species, along with a rise in its buying and selling prices. It is an organised trade in India with villagers helping poachers locates the pangolins.