A stakeholder workshop on Human-wildlife Interactions, the second in the series, was jointly conducted by Keystone Foundation and Nilgiri Natural History Society. The Horticultural College and Research Institute, Periyakulam hosted the workshop on 12 March, 2015.
Meeting with Stakeholders
The crew from Keystone and NNHS spent a couple of days prior to the workshop, interacting with locals, trying to gain a better understanding of what the ‘on-ground-scenario’ was regarding interactions between Humans and wildlife. Through these interactions we were also able to identify stakeholders and meet with them. Farmers, farm labourers, Forest Department, Local Administration, Veterinary Department, NGO’s and the regional media were the stakeholders who played a important role in influencing the perception and understanding of interactions between humans and wildlife.
While most interactions with locals were regarding positive or neutral interactions with wildlife, there were mentions of a few incidents of conflict. Most of these instances concerned Gaur or Wild boar causing damage to crops which were the main source of livelihood, but there were also a few reports of deaths caused by the same animals. Elephants were not reported to be a big problem in this region. The families of the deceased were compensated, there were not too many claims for compensation for instances of crop raiding.
An interesting observation in this region was the manner in which compensation claims were filed. Rather than filing their claims directly with the Forest Department, petitions were lodged with the Collectors Citizen Grievance Redressal Cell.
VANAM, an environmental NGO working in the region, has played an important role in educating the public about conservation issues and sensitising the media reporting on conservation and conflict related issues. WILDS another NGO has been working closely with the Forest Department and supports them in their work on Joint Forest Management Programmes. An interesting report of conflict from the area came from small fruit growing farmers who had difficulty harvesting Guavas early in the morning because of the presence of Gaur in their fields. These incidents were reported from the Sirumalai region, where guavas are harvested mainly for export purposes.
There have been reports of human death from Gaur and Wild Boar encounters. In all these cases some sort of compensation was paid to the families of the deceased. The farmers were also used to chasing away the animals and were not in the habit of submitting claims for compensation. Later we learnt that a number of requests for compensation have been going to the Collectors Citizen Grievance Redressal Cell. Very few complaints have come directly to the forest department , mostly addressed to the Theni Territorial Division (we were shown the compensation register for Meghamalai Sanctuary only 3-4 cases have been registered). The environmental NGO Vanam plays an important role in educating the public about conservation issues and sensitising the media to the reporting on issues related to conservation. WILDS has been doing research in the region for a number of years and also supports the forest department in their work on Joint Forest Management Programs. There were also reports from small fruit growing farmers about the issues they face with relation to early morning harvest of guavas for the export market which is hindered because of the presence of elephants in their farmlands. This was reported mostly from the Sirumalai region.
Workshop on Human-wildlife Interactions:
The workshop was attended by 40 participants, including members of the Forest Department, Farmers, Students, Local NGO’s as well as members of the regional media. Mr Robert Leo of Keystone Foundation (EC member NNHS) anchored the workshop and moderated the open forum which took place towards the end of the workshop. The workshop was inaugurated by the Dean of HCRI Dr T Balamohan who spoke very effectively on the need for tolerance and the manner in which our perspective towards these interactions could influence our tolerance towards wildlife. This was followed by special addresses by Warden Meghamalai Sanctuary and DFO Theni district who presented some of the pressures being faced by the forest departments in their respective areas regarding incidents of conflict and the nature on interactions between humans and wildlife. The focus of all three speakers was on our perspective towards interactions with wildlife as well as highlighting some of the key issues that could add to conflict, such as encroachment of wildlife habitats and over-utilisation of resources. They also highlighted the contribution of wildlife in promoting diversity and richness of the forests in the area. Abhishek K R of Keystone Foundation made a brief presentation on issues faced during interactions between humans and wildlife and also shared some findings and reflections from the “Pre-empting Conflict: Human-Gaur interactions in Kotagiri” project, as Gaur was a major problem species reported from the area.
Discussion during Open Forum:
Farmers participating in the workshop aired their major concerns; unexpected presence of wildlife in their farms and areas of work, lack of communication from the forest department regarding incidents of conflict and the manner in which the mechanism of compensation functions.
The Forest Department also participated in this discussion and highlighted interesting points to be considered; drastic change in crop patterning and the kind of crops being grown. They attributed the increasing interactions to the cultivation of highly nutritious and palatable crops adjacent to forest lands. Also, the usage of water present inside forest by large orchard owners could tremendously increase the pressure on animals in these forests to come out and forage and seek water. The above two factors coupled with a changing attitudes of people towards wildlife, they believed, added to the rising incidents of conflict in the region.
Also, the officials opined it was farmers with large land holdings who petitioned for compensation more than farmers with small land holdings, and changing agricultural practices also contributed directly to forest fires in the region, resulting in additional pressure on the animals in these regions. WILDS, shared some of their findings in the region, indicating that threat to crops like cardamom was greater from pest attacks and diseases rather than potential damage by wildlife. The meeting was concluded with a vote of thanks by Mr Robert Leo, and Mr Sumin George Thomas.
Keystone Foundation and NNHS would like to specially thank Dean HCRI, Dr T Balamohan, who has been very co-operative and welcoming towards conducting this workshop, as well as Dr K Kumaran, who was been very helpful in organising the workshop as well as generous with his time in facilitating a lot of meetings with stakeholders in this region.