Man-Animal Conflict and Mitigation
Published on 4 December 2021
For the first time, a 10-year-old crocodile crawled into a house veranda and perched next to a sofa in a village in Kerala. A leopard strayed into a classroom and attacked a student in Uttar Pradesh. A deer fell into a 40-foot well and a herd of elephants got trapped in a muddy pond. Both animals were rescued and released into the wild. In California, a mother fought off a mountain lion, which walked into the front lawn of her house and dragged off her 5-year-old son. The boy was saved and the lion was killed to protect the public. Pythons and rattlesnakes are moving into porches, yards and pools in urban areas in the United States. Some are crawling onto bridges and bringing traffic to a standstill in Kolkata, India. A 10-foot nonvenomous diamond python was found behind the spice jars in the spice aisle in a suburban supermarket in Sydney Australia.
An 8-year-old gaur with a wounded leg was spotted near a bus stand on a hill station in Tamil Nadu. How did this animal which is normally found deep in the jungle saunter into town? Why are herds of bison and other wild animals coming out of the protected areas and into cities and towns? Have the incidences of wild animals straying into human habitations become more frequent? It seems so.
There are many reports of wildlife venturing into human-inhabited areas.
The survival of wild elephants in Asia and Africa is under threat. Elephants have huge home ranges, within which they search for food, moving according to the seasons. Expanding rubber plantations and agriculture has shrunk the elephant corridors, reducing the buffer zones between humans and elephants. Hence, the chances of elephants encountering humans are increasing. Growing elephant-friendly crops like sugarcane, bananas, coconuts, and paddy near forest fringes, establishing industries in man-elephant conflict zones, and dwindling food and water sources in the forests are some reasons for the clash with humans. There is poaching for ivory, disease outbreak, infighting, aging and natural calamities that kill elephants. Traps with crude explosives planted inside fruits, deep trenches, and electric fences set by subsistence farmers and owners of resorts bordering forests have killed many of these iconic species when they strayed. In India, 100 elephants and 400 human lives are lost every year through such conflicts. Elephant sightings outside forests are increasing and conflict zones are widening. When the natural migration path of the animal is blocked and its habitat is under threat, it tends to shift its territory into the nearby villages in search of food and water. If steps are not taken by authorities to end such conflicts, people will indulge in illegal activities such as poisoning the animal or setting up traps to get rid of it.
Nearly a third of India’s tigers are living outside the tiger reserves. As their population increase, they move out in search of prey. Habitat destruction, cattle grazing, and resource extraction have led to a dwindling prey base for the tigers.
The conflict between the leopards and humans is increasing due to habitat fragmentation and game hunting. Leopards are entering suburban homes and plantations, creating panic among occupants. The animal has been quietly migrating from the wild to the villages close to the national parks, in search of food and water. It seems as if its natural habitat shifted from the deep jungle to the villages bordering forests.
Bear families are straying out of the forests and into villages in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. In Northern Alberta, Canada, a bear entered a house near the woods. Human-grizzly encounters will likely rise as the population of bear grows and the bears expand their territory. At the same time, the number of people living in the bear region continues to grow. In general, the conflicts between grizzlies and humans have increased in the Northern Rockies of the United States over the past 10 years. A bear in Arizona got stuck on a utility pole. A polar bear was shot dead after attacking a tourist in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean.
Beavers and Cockatoos
Another incident where beavers, scouting for dam-building materials, gnawed through a 4.5-inch-thick conduit and chewed the fiber cables, buried three feet underground, which left a remote Canadian community with disrupted cable television and mobile phone services for two days. Similarly in Australia, cockatoos damaged broadband infrastructure.
Wild boars are entering villages bordering the forests and destroying crops. Humans resort to mass culling as wild boars are considered a menace.
Lightning strikes, hail storms, fireworks and industrial pollution kill birds in many places around the world. When birds lose their natural habitat and food source, and when there is a loss of wetlands, waterways and forests, they venture into human habitats. Many tall buildings, communication towers, wind turbines, and powerlines pose a threat to birds, particularly the migratory ones, as collision kills millions of birds each year. Towers which are held up with guy wires are invisible to nocturnal birds. Many birds collide with glass windows. Microbial infections particularly affect species of birds that form dense flocks or gather at bird feeders. Bacterial infections can also spread from domestic poultry. Free-ranging cats, including the feral cats and pets that roam free, are skilled hunters and are estimated to kill 2.4 billion birds in the United States and Canada each year. Habitat loss and climate change are leading to the decline of migratory birds. Pesticide use is the main reason for the decline of grassland birds. Birds that eat contaminated prey also die.
The regent honeyeater, a rare songbird abundant in south-eastern Australia, is critically endangered with only 300 birds remaining in the world. The interaction among the birds has fallen as their numbers have dwindled and they do not get to interact with their wild relatives. Just as humans learn how to speak, birds learn how to sing. When young birds leave the nest, they need to be in a surrounding where the male birds sing and they learn by listening. Since 90 percent of their habitat is lost, the young birds are unable to find male birds to learn how to sing. Instead, they learn the songs of other bird species. The natural song of the regent honey-eater has disappeared in 12 percent of the population according to the researchers. This study shows how damaging population decline and habitat fragmentation might be to this critical process in the life of songbirds.
Scientists report that when the amphibian population shrinks, the disease outbreak in humans increases. When the number of frogs declined, malaria rates shot up in Central America. Frogs are the biological control agents of mosquitoes that transmit the disease when infected with the plasmodium parasite.
The monarch butterfly that migrates 3000 miles from Canada to Mexico is facing extinction, as it is losing its only source of food, the milkweed. Loss of woodlands and grass, lack of shelter-giving tree canopies that protect from predators, commercialization of agriculture, increasing use of pesticides and herbicides, and food wastage are the reasons for this decline.
In many places around the world, industries are letting out polluted water which disturbs the aquatic ecosystem, resulting in fishkill. Fish are dying in unusually large numbers in Miami in the US, Qaraoun Lake in Lebanon, and Ennore creek, Vengaivasal and Buckingham Canal in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, where thousands of Mackerel, Carps, and Mullet fish have died. Excessive chemical runoffs from human activity and untreated water from farms lower the oxygen content and reduce the quality of lakes.
Nearly 1500 white-sided dolphins or pilot whales were massacred in the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory, in September 2021, as a part of a century’s old hunting tradition known as grindadráp. It was reported as the largest single hunt of cetaceans ever recorded worldwide. Dugongs or sea cows are critically endangered marine mammals that feed on seagrass. They are hunted for meat, hides, blubber and traditional medicine.
There is an alarming drop in the worldwide shark population, both deep sea and coral reef-dwelling, as they are hunted for meat and fins. Out of 400 reefs surveyed, only 20 percent had sharks. As apex predators, sharks in reefs are the indicators of ocean health, as they help maintain the food webs. Oceanic sharks and rays have declined by 71 percent in the last 50 years.
In India, a primate endemic to rainforests, the lion-tailed macaque, is severely impacted by hunting, roadkills and habitat loss. In France, southeast Asian white-cheeked gibbon is approaching extinction. The mountain gorilla in Africa is critically endangered due to habitat loss, poaching, disease and war. The survival of Sumatra orangutans is threatened by loggers, poachers and farmers who practice indiscriminate monoculture. From the time humans populated Madagascar about 2,000 years ago, about 15 to 20 species of Lemurs have become extinct.
Lions and Rhinos
About 50 years ago, there were 450,000 lions in Africa. Today, there are hardly 20,000. Rhinos are becoming extinct, as they are being hunted for their horns, which are valuable in traditional medicine to dispel the body heat and detoxify the blood.
When wild animals lose their home, get isolated from their herd, their food source dwindles, their population rapidly increases, or their migratory routes change, they venture into human habitats and problematic interaction between man and animal ensues. When the human population grows and encroaches into the wild habitats, man enters into conflicts with animals. When forests are cleared to create tea and coffee plantations, the ecological niche is disturbed. The current COVID-19 pandemic, Ebola outbreak, and other such epidemics are linked to deforestation, mining, illegal wildlife trade, migration of people, as well as, unstable governments. The changes that take place due to anthropogenic land use also impact the climate patterns. As climate change alters the landscape, the behavior of the animals also changes. Some herbivores may move closer to human habitations, as food and safety from predators are assured. This can also lead to pathogen spillover from wildlife to livestock. Wild animals are often hunted for their byproducts, even though it is illegal to indulge in the wildlife trade. Secretions of civet cats and must deer, ambergris of sperm whales and gall stones of wild bison are in great demand by the perfume industry.
Humans are transforming natural ecosystems into human-made structures. Ecologists state that clearing forests for infrastructural development lead to biodiversity loss. Humans share the world with countless other species, many of which are nearing extinction. The compilation prepared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists about 37,400 species that are gravely endangered and the list is ever-growing. There are pandemic outbreaks when the encounters between wildlife and livestock increase. The canine distemper virus (CDV) can wipe out an entire wild tiger population. The H5N1 avian influenza can kill the wild as well as domesticated birds. Introducing invasive species in non-native lands is detrimental. Herbivores that depend on native vegetation have to go far in search of food. Invasive animals can outcompete and eliminate the native ones.
There are some ways to overcome these challenges.
- Increasing forest cover, rejuvenating forests, and replacing invasive species with indigenous species can reduce human-animal interactions and disease transmission.
- It is essential to retain a few native tree species, large trees and nesting trees in human-modified habitats.
- Preservation of urban green space and lack of hunting could also open the door for some species to thrive amid large human populations; some mammals have grown tolerant of humans and appear to have adapted to suburban landscapes around the world, according to scientists.
- Although industrial mining can destroy sensitive habitats, new research has found that in Germany, rock quarries have become the refuge of a silver-studded blue butterfly, as its original habitat of green meadows has declined severely. Rubbles from coal mines with thin soil and sparse vegetation have become home to the grayling butterfly in Belgium.
- Farmers can be paid to create or protect ecologically valuable meadow habitats so that butterflies can thrive there.
- Tall structures with lights at night will help the night-flying birds to avoid obstructions; bright lights confuse birds, but non-white flashing lights do not cause any problem.
- Planting shrubs that provide both food and shelter for birds is helpful.
- Artificial houses of wood can be placed for bats and birds.
- Plume trade kills birds, as they are great demand for decorating hats; consumers should be discouraged from buying such products.
- Technology can be used to track flocks of migratory birds.
- Overhead cables can be replaced with underground powerlines; bird diverters can be installed to prevent a collision.
- Marine protection zones and fishing restrictions have immensely helped protect the oceanic ecosystem. When oil-transporting vessels hit coral reefs and run aground, there is oil leakage and destruction of sea creatures. In 2020, an oil spill of 800 tons or 25,000 gallons on California’s South coast and another oil spill of 1000 tons in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius massively impacted marine life.
- Protect salt ponds, as these provide salted drinking water to the wild animals; poachers sometimes poison these ponds to kill wild animals and also infections in wild animals can be transmitted among different species that share ponds for drinking water.
- Coastal intertidal mudflats, visible during low tide and go under during high tide, are a vital ecosystem that provides resting habitats for marine organisms and migratory birds; mangroves in mudflats should be restored after carefully studying the historical data.
- Elephant exodus can be prevented by restoring their habitats, protecting elephant corridors and preserving natural resources; disturbances caused by human interventions in the existing corridors are forcing elephants to use alternative routes and if they use the alternative route for five years, it is then considered to be a new corridor.
- Early warning systems with GPS and drone technology can be used to track the movement of the pachyderms and warn the farmers; data generated from the GPS-enabled radio-collar help in studying the routes, obstacles and behavior of the elephants during migration.
- Bio-fences like cactus and bee boxes can be installed at the periphery of the forests to dissuade elephants from entering farmlands.
- Create awareness among villagers and farmers to avoid cultivating crops that attract elephants and instead grow the ones disliked by them like citrus, chilies and ginger; chili smoke, chili bricks and chili ropes act as repellents for elephants.
- Appropriate mitigation strategies should be based on historical data.
- Wildlife crimes adversely impact the forest ecosystem and must be prevented; with government intervention, poachers can be rehabilitated to become protectors of the forests.
- Protect and prevent harming top predators like tigers and cheetahs, as it can disturb the trophic cascade of the forest ecosystem and destabilize the state of biodiversity.
- Some birds and animals can adapt to modified landscapes. Birds like the great hornbills can switch to non-native trees for nesting and foraging. Some primates like bonnet macaques can get used to human-origin food and spend less time foraging. Social interactions in animals can also drastically change in human-modified areas and also the spread of novel parasites.
- Environmental changes must be tracked, the risk of pathogen spillover must be assessed and risky human activities like hunting, poaching and illegal wildlife trade must be prevented.
- Scientists and policy-makers must work together to holistically address issues of public health, environment and sustainable development, deforestation, disorganized mining and unplanned development alongside vulnerable farmers and tribal communities.
- Government should address the economic and cultural factors that drive deforestation, hunting and trading wild animals.
- Linear infrastructure, ill-planned and built without concern for wilderness, is a big threat to wildlife. Innovative ways to build infrastructure along with protecting wilderness are the best way forward. National parks, sanctuaries, and core critical habitats should be protected at all cost. All stakeholders including the rural poor and tribal communities should be engaged in all conservation efforts.
- Children should be educated about man-animal conflicts and public awareness should be created about wildlife conservation.
Modern humans have been flourishing on this 4.5-billion-year-old planet for 200,000 years. Earth is a complex interconnected system that supports and helps life thrive as it has favorable temperature, rich topsoil, water and air. An anthropocentric view of life has led most human beings to exploit all of the natural resources for their benefit. As a result, the holistic biocentric view of life that emphasizes sharing, empowering and preserving nature is forgotten.
The scientists lament that our world is currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction and wildlife has declined by two-thirds in less than 50 years due to the unprecedented resource extraction and widespread wild habitat destruction. With increasing floods, earthquakes, cyclones, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, glacial melts, locust attacks and pandemics, humans are forced to rethink and reset their relationship with nature.
Earth will do just fine without humans and there is plenty of evidence for it. Thirty-five years after the explosion and meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, wildlife is thriving in the absence of humans! The exclusion zone is around 4,700 square kilometers around the reactor, which is an area of high radiation. Frogs in this zone have higher melanin content than those outside it. According to scientists, this could be an adaptation that protects them from ionizing radiation. Beavers, badgers, lynx, deer, raccoon dogs, wild boar, moose, wolf and brown bears have made it their home.
If humans are to survive on the earth, the moment is now to stop the ecocide and reset the relationship with nature.
It is to be noted that wild animals take only what is needed for their survival and leave the rest, unlike humans.
Image Source: Pexels
Indigenous insights on human-wildlife coexistence in southern India (2022): “Through qualitative field study that involved interviews and transect walks inside the forests, we found that Kattunayakans displayed tolerance and acceptance of wild animals characterized as forms of deep coexistence that involves three central ideas: wild animals as rational conversing beings; wild animals as gods, teachers, and equals; and wild animals as relatives with shared origins practicing dharmam. We argue that understanding these adequately will support efforts to bring Kattunayakan perspectives into the management of India’s forests and contribute to the resolution of the human-wildlife conflict more broadly.”
Human footprint and protected areas shape elephant range across Africa (2021)
Europe’s declining butterflies find new refuge: old quarries and coal mines (2021)
Ecology and economics for pandemic prevention (2020)
Why deforestation and extinctions make pandemics more likely (2020)
Every hill has its leopard: patterns of space use by leopards ( Panthera pardus) in a mixed use landscape in India (2020)
Policy to On-ground Action: Evaluating a Conflict Policy Guideline for Leopards in India Policy to On-ground Action: Evaluating a Conflict Policy Guideline for Leopards in India (2020)
Distemper, extinction, and vaccination of the Amur tiger (2020)
Shared morphological consequences of global warming in North American migratory birds (2019)
Prevalence of gastrointestinal parasites in lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus in central Western Ghats, India (2019)
Mammal communities are larger and more diverse in moderately developed areas (2018)
Flight range, fuel load and the impact of climate change on the journeys of migrant birds (2018)
Release of report on Status of Tigers Copredators & Prey in India (2018)
Advanced long-term bird banding and climate data mining in spring confirm passerine population declines for the Northeast Chinese-Russian flyway (2016)
Amphibian Collapses Exacerbated Malaria Outbreaks in Central America