Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Deforestation stoking man-animal battles; UP sees over 36 deaths in big cat attacks since 2020

PUNJAB NEWS LINE | September 24, 2022 04:20 PM

LUCKNOW:Increased man-animal conflict in and around the three main tiger reserves in Uttar Pradesh have emerged as a major cause for concern in recent years.

The Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (PTR), Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (DTR) and the upcoming Amangarh Tiger Reserve (ATR) have reported more than three dozen deaths due to attacks by the big cat family -- two dozen killed in Dudhwa alone since 2020.

Wildlife experts say that deforestation which is reducing the forest size, expansion of human settlements and agriculture and overgrazing by livestock have led to increased man-animal conflicts.

The sugarcane crops in these areas provide a safe haven for the big cats that hide among the crops and attack any �intruder'.

"The problem is that people cut down trees for firewood and extend the boundaries of human settlements in and around the tiger reserves. As the forest area gets shrunk, the big cats venture out and this leads to man-animal conflict. People also send their cattle to graze in the forest which again, attracts the wild animals," said Brij Kishore, a wildlife expert in Pilibhit.

Farmers have approached the forest officials, seeking a safe zone.

"There is no gap between human habitats and forest area in the plains. Often people fail to detect the presence of a wild animal till they come face to face in a potential man-animal conflict situation. Therefore, a safe zone is necessary. We plan to develop at least a 500-metre safe zone to separate villages and forest," said a forest official in Bijnor where the ATR is located.

Pilibhit and Dudhwa are the two tiger reserves that are most susceptible to such conflicts.

"The forest officials tell us not to move out alone but how do we earn a livelihood by staying at home? Whenever there is any incident, we are told to take care of ourselves and stay at home. The government should set up some fencing to ensure that wild animals do not venture out of the forest area," says Keshav Ram, a resident of Bhood Gautia village.

Two years ago, the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India) had prepared a team of 'Bagh Mitra' to help tackle the increasing number of man-animal conflicts in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh.

A total of 50 Bagh Mitras were selected in Lakhimpur Kheri and 75 in Pilibhit district. They were trained in sensitizing residents, understanding tiger/leopard behaviour, pug marks identification and providing support in rescue operations.

Anil, a Bagh Mitra from Mohammadi in Lakhimpur said, "We were trained in general tips and tools used in case a big cat strays close to a village. We have nearly 15 villages in the region. We can now identify carnivores through their pug marks and the steps to be taken to push the animal into the forest area. During training, we came to know that sugarcane tigers are actually beneficial for the farmers as they kill wild boars and nilgai that damage the crops."

He stated that "Unlike forest tigers, the tigers living in sugarcane fields are getting used to the presence of human beings and there are rare instances of them attacking the human population in the region."

According to the all-India tiger estimation, the number of tigers has increased significantly to 65 in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve while Lakhimpur Kheri has 107 tigers with 82 in forest areas and 25 straying into sugarcane fields in the Mohammadi range.

In a significant move, the Uttar Pradesh government has made the man-animal conflict a 'State Declared Disaster' bringing such incidents under the ambit of the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) to ensure better coordination and relief during such mishaps in the state.

This will enable faster monetary relief to the victims of attacks by wild animals.

As per the provisions of the order, in cases of human death due to man-animal conflict, relief of Rs 5 lakh would be given to the family of the deceased while the disbursement of compensation for injury would be in accordance with the SDRF guidelines.

The order also makes it clear that the amount of Rs 1 lakh per death would be arranged by the state forest department from its own budget to the Revenue Department.

The order also speaks about creating awareness, ensuring police support in areas where such conflicts happen and proper guidelines to handle situations when wild animals venture into human habitation. The government order makes it mandatory for the authorities to disburse the relief amount within 24 hours of the incident and the production of the post-mortem examination report of the victim.

Notably, as per the central forestry rules, the payment of ex-gratia amount to victims of wild animal attacks is provided with a view to reducing retaliatory killings. This move will help mitigate acrimony amidst local villagers, forest department and local administration in the conflict zones, especially, the districts in the Terai arc landscape.

For the first time, lions and wild boars have been added to the list of wild animals which includes tiger, leopard, Indian wolf, hyena, crocodile, elephant and rhinoceros as predators. According to sources, 98 cases of human and big cat conflicts have been reported in the state in the last two years. Tiger attacks in Uttar Pradesh alone have claimed seven lives in the last three years.

The declaration of such conflict under the SDRF will also mean that police and local administration would now intervene in a situation wherein a herd of elephants enters a village, a leopard being spotted or a tiger venturing into human inhabitation, said a wildlife expert.

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