Man – Animal Conflict in Pir Panjal Himalayas

Junaid Jazib
The conflict between man and wildlife is an age-old phenomenon which arises when their interests overlap. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) defines Human Wildlife conflict as “any interaction between humans and wildlife that results in negative impacts on human social, economic or cultural life, on the conservation of wildlife populations, or on the environment”.
Fund for Nature-Southern African Regional Programme Office at the 5th Annual World Parks Congress (8-17 September 2003, Montreal) defined human-wildlife conflict in the context of human goals and animal needs as follows: “Human-wildlife conflict occurs when the needs and behavior of wildlife impact negatively on the goals of humans or when the goals of humans negatively impact the needs of wildlife”. The main reason for such a conflict is the limited natural resources including land and water on which both man and wildlife depend for their survival. The problem is further getting aggravated with rapid urbanization, expanding human population and continuously shrinking natural resources in the contemporary industrialized world. As a result, man and wildlife are increasingly coming into conflicts world over.
The problem has now been acknowledged and focused upon not only at local or regional levels in various parts of the world but is also being considered as, more or less, a global issue. There are two facets of the problem, one seen through anthropocentric point of view and the other from wildlife protection viewpoint. The conflict results in loss of human life, killing of domestic cattle and damage to the crops and properties. It more often than not ends up in retaliatory killing of wildlife. Loss of human life, crops or livestock has serious socioeconomic implications. Loss of wildlife, on the other hand, is irreparable and results long-lasting ecological impacts especially when it’s endemic and endangered species at the receiving end. Damages to human life and property are no doubt huge but the damages inflicted on wildlife are more dangerous and impactful. The management strategies used earlier include lethal control, translocation and population regulation. Now the emphasis is on management approaches which use scientific research and environment friendly strategies.
Nature and extent of the human wildlife conflict vary from region to region. As the climate, vegetation, composition of wildlife and socio-cultural setup of humans differ, the nature and magnitude of the problem, and therefore management strategies to be adopted, greatly vary. The Indian sub-continent and particularly the Himalayan region is very rich in biodiversity as well as cultural diversity. It supports a huge wealth of biodiversity and figures among the world’s most biodiverse zones. The Pir Panjal region is one of the most important tracts of the western Himalayas both ecologically as well culturally or geographically. It bears varied types of vegetation comprising of conifers and deciduous forests, alpine meadows, temperate grasslands and subtropical forests and supports a rich biodiversity. It does support a considerable amount of the endemic flora and fauna. Lush green oak forests (Quercus spp), though fast shrinking now, have great impact on the socio-economy of the locals in the area. Handicraft industry heavily dependent on the endemic Chikhri or Box tree (Boxus walliachiana) provides sustenance to a large number of families in Thannamandi, Surankote and Kotranka. Socioeconomically, the region is not, generally, well off. This again compel human population to exert extra pressure on the adjoining forests and wildlife habitations for their pretty requirements. People often venture into forests for grazing their cattle, for collecting fodder, fruit or other MFPs or for any other purpose. Incidents of man wildlife conflicts are not uncommon. People bear huge losses not only in terms of crop damage, livestock killing or property loss but also in terms of serious threats to human lives due to wild animals’ attacks. Wildlife (both flora and fauna), majority of which is already endangered or threatened, too gets killed, damaged or threatened in retaliation. Black bear, snow leopard, common leopard, jackal, monkeys and certain bird species are notorious for damaging crops or killing domestic livestock or sometimes attacking humans in the region. Here, humans too don’t shy away from killing an animal wherever they get to. Hirpur wildlife sanctuary falls in the region and is famous as the favorite abode of Markhor (Capra falconeri), the largest goat, but no official or unofficial survey/study has ever reported an increase in its population. Human wildlife conflict has developed into a very serious problem in the region particularly during recent times when natural habitats of wild animals are encroached upon under the pretext of development. The famous Mughal road, which connects southern aspect of Pir Panjal with the Kashmir valley, has further aggravated the problem in terms of habitat fragmentation and increased threat to the existing wildlife. Tribals and nomads constitute a major chunk of the population and add another important socio-cultural feature to the region. They are conservative both socially as well as ecologically. Their worldview and customs are deeply influenced by nature and animistic ideals which make them ardent lover of nature and biodiversity. But the socio-cultural transition they are passing through has eroded their ideals. They are now both victims as well as killers of wildlife. Many a species of plants and animals which once formed a very common sight in the region have vanished altogether over the last decades.
Mainly, the consequences of man wild life conflict in region are grouped into following categories of damage
* Attacking and killing of human lives
* Predation on livestock or domestic animals
* Appearance of animals in residential areas
* Snatching of resources by forcing humans away from their homes, property, water points or farms
* Nesting of birds in or around residential houses
* Killing of wildlife in retaliation or as a strategy to prevent future attacks
* Damaging wildlife
* Driving wildlife away from their natural habitats
Human wildlife conflict is undoubtedly a serious problem, escalating with every passing year, in the region and demands detailed scientific research in order to highlight the actual state of affairs and to explore the adoptable strategies to tackle with the problem. Very few studies in the western Himalayas, and none in the Pir Panjal region, are available on the subject so far. Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department identified 100 high conflict zones and 50 moderate conflict zones in 2010. The department has its own strategies to deal with such conflicts and encourage use of electric fencing, employing of dogs and shepherds and sometimes provides compensation for the damage. It, however, requires an attitudinal change vis a vis applying of certain unavoidable tools and techniques to effectively prevent or minimize the conflict and its causal factors.
(The author is assistant professor Deptt of Environmental Sciences GDC Thannamandi)