Srinagar, 16 July: As humankind continues to breach nature”s borders to encroach into the habitat of wildlife species, more and more incidents of man-animal conflict are occurring across the Kashmir Valley.
Over the past two months, Kashmir has witnessed dramatic instances of human-wildlife conflict, with villagers in Ompora in Budgam district and Zazuna area of Ganderbal demanding removal of Leopards they suspect to be “man-eaters”.
While the killing of 6-year-old girl Mahiya Shabir who was found dead after she was taken away by a leopard from an orchard near Zazuna Mandi locality of Ganderbal district,and the 4-year-old Adha Shakil— a resident of housing colony in Ompora was taken away by a leopard while she was playing in the lawn of her house grabbed media attention, conflict for space occurs every day between wildlife and people living in and around forest. These incidents filled the residents with shock and grief as much with rage and contempt for authorities.
In the Kashmir valley,according to data from the J&K wildlife department shows that ,about 2829 people were injured and 224 were killed in conflict cases involving tiger’s, black bears, Leopards,monkeys, and read foxes between 2019 upto ending-march 2021 and as many as sixteen people were killed while 172 injuries have been reported in the conflict. There is no data on the number of animals killed by humans in human-wildlife conflict cases. The J&K wildlife department compile data based on the compensation claims filed by the people who have been affected.
Data suggests, in the Shopian division alone, a total of 142 incidents of human-wildlife conflict were reported since January 2021 with black bear (50), and leopard incidents (53), higher in number compared to other animals.
According to wildlife experts,in Kashmir deforestation is one of the most pressing environmental issues that the Kashmir is facing currently. It is the conversion of forested land to non-forested land by humans.The main reasons attributed to the reduction in forest cover are shifting cultivation, rotational felling, other biotic pressures, diversion of forest lands for developmental activities, etc. Continuous illicit cutting of trees has impacted the microclimatic conditions, hydrological cycle, soil quality, biodiversity, etc. Especially in forest areas are more adept to attract wild animals.
There are multiple factors responsible for the rise in human-wildlife conflict in the Kashmir valley.“Human-wildlife conflict has also increased due to invasive species and lack of sufficient food for wildlife inside the forest boundaries.” Reports by the Forest Survey of J&K since early 1990s indicate that around one-third of the dense forest cover has been lost and half the traditional wildlife corridors have disappeared, bringing animals and people dangerously close.
“The fault is not of the animals as they are in forest areas which were traditionally their habitats. But with then increasing population, many of these green corridors have now been occupied by people. This is a cause for (the) rising conflict”.Experts blame deforestation for the rising attacks.
Official records at J&K Kashmir’s forest department reveal that as many as 79 forest officials including one conservator have lost their lives while trying to protect the forest wealth, whereas 135 forest buildings have gotten destroyed as a fallout of the armed conflict. Besides, there have been hundreds of incidents of forest officials getting beaten up by smugglers officials said.
Senior wildlife warden told “It is a man-made disaster,”“There has been massive deforestation in the Pir Panjal forest division in the last few years,” he said, referring to three forest ranges that saw most of the attacks by wild animals.
The wildlife authorities say they are trying to implement safety measures, particularly in residential areas near forests.
“Fast growing human population has pushed the boundaries of the wild animals far deeper into the forests and other habitats of these species.”
“Look at any forest area of the Valley and you will find that humans have done serious encroachments there. Felling forests for timber and fuel, or claiming forest land for cultivation is a common phenomenon in J&K.
“This forces the wildlife species to move down into populated areas for food and sometimes in sheer bewilderment and fear”, said a local environment activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat.
Another important reason for man-animal conflict is the increasing numbers of wildlife species because poaching and unauthorised killing of animals for fur etc has almost stopped due to the presence of the security forces in forest areas.
“Poachers hardly dare to venture into the forests. Security forces deployed on counter insurgency duties dominate forest areas to check infiltration of militants. This has discouraged poaching and hunting in these forests”, said a police officer.
Rashid Naqash, Regional Wildlife warden for Kashmir told that the number of bears and leopards have grown significantly in the last few years. “Because there is ample and safe space for them to breed, their population has multiplied hugely. It is an unnatural growth,” he admitted.
Naqash said that there was no evident spike in the number of human-animal conflict but near forests, people must desist from venturing out during the morning and evening times, when wild animals are out in search of food.
“There is no need to panic as humans and animals are supposed to coexist,”“But while animals have been sharing space with the humankind since the early times, the present crisis has been triggered by a lot of small green vegetations that have come up very close to the human habitations, offering a conducive environment for the leopards. And that’s how they adapted to this lifestyle and started to throng the urban areas.” said wildlife official Rashid Naqash.
Some officials of the Wildlife Protection Force, however, rue the lack of availability of proper equipment and personnel to deal with the “frequent presence” of wild animals in residential areas. Naqash, however, refused the claim.
Chief Wildlife Warden of Jammu and Kashmir, Suresh Kumar Gupta, said, “man-animal conflict will continue but it can be minimised. The overall data of the past 15 years show that the situation has improved. From 32 deaths and 365 injuries to 10 deaths and 141 injuries last year, we have certainly improved the situation. One-third of the deaths have also reduced,”he said.
Gupta said that the department was well equipped and has adequate cages, tranquillizer guns, trap poles, vehicles, mobikes. Net guns are a new addition to their kitty, he said.
“Children must not to be allowed to move out of their homes alone as wild animal prefer to attack children,”he said.
Meanwhile a top official from wildlife department J&K told that The department provides ₹3,00,000 compensation in case of death or permanent incapacitation of a body part in such conflicts. ₹1,00,000 is provided as compensation in cases of serious injuries and ₹15,000 in case of minor injuries.
“For the past few years, we are providing ₹1 crore to ₹1.5crores every year as compensation to the affected people and their kin,and since 2006 upto ending march-2021 about ₹49,755,000 disturbed among those who killed in attacks and ₹63,689,000 among those who injured in attacks” he said.
He added that “in 2010-11 attack incidents out of 12 cases of south division 9 were compensated and 3 cases closed due to non availability of authenticed documentary proof,” and “in 2015-16 one case has been return to WLW Shopain due to non availability of postmartum report.”
He further added that “in 2021-21 incidents 01 injury returned case and disposed off by WLW Shopain.
Notably,the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)warns in a new report that “conflict between people and animals is one of the main threats to the long-term survival of some of the world’s most emblematic species,” Human-wildlife conflict when struggles arise from people and animals coming into contact often leads to people killing animals in self-defence, or as pre-emptive or retaliatory killings, which can drive species to extinction.