October 19, 2020
Life Skills Education in India
October 19, 2020

Mitigation of human-animal conflicts in the context of Asian Elephants in India

A series of unfortunate deaths of elephants in the past few months led to a furore in society. The most notable incident was that of a pregnant elephant in the State of Kerala in India that succumbed to her injuries by consuming a pineapple packed with firecrackers on 27th May 2020. A writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court of India seeking an independent inquiry regarding the ‘menace of killing elephants’, a declaration of the usage of explosives, snares, etc. as unconstitutional and demanding stringent punishment for violators under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Conservation Status of the Asian Elephant
In India, the Asian elephant is not only provided the highest degree of legal protection by virtue of its placement under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 but was also declared the National Heritage Animal in 2010. The Asian elephant is endangered as per the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. India’s proposal for the inclusion of the Asian Elephant in Appendix I (Endangered Migratory Species) was accepted in the 13th Conference of Parties of the Conservation of the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) in 2020.
The taking of Appendix I species may be permissible by the Range States if any of the four scenarios are found as under Article III (5) of the CMS. Even if we assume the prevalence of ‘extraordinary circumstances’ for instances where elephants have died of poisoning in India, to prove the requirement of the exception being ‘precise as to content’ and ‘limited in time and space’ becomes difficult as the mechanisms used in India are in form of snares or traps as opposed to one that is ‘caught in the act’.
Cause for Conflict
This uproar is indicative of a deeper problem facing society today. Wild animals are living in proximity to humans, often, in smaller pockets of suitable habitats as compared to their historic range. Farmers and forest-dependent communities are often found competing with animals for waning resources. Crop- raiding elephants are found foraging in agricultural fields and are often meted out with retaliatory action which could prove fatal. Rising human population and habitat fragmentation further fuel such conflicts.
Elephants in particular cause significant damage to crops and vegetation across Asia and Africa. As a means to prevent such encroachment and depredation to crops, farmers adopt aversive conditioning by the application of negative stimuli such as the usage of chemicals, shock collars, rubber bullets and so on. While the efficacy and necessity of culling elephant populations to mitigate conflict is unknown, it is largely practised in some countries. For instance, around 50-100 problem elephants are shot in Kenya each year and dozens of elephants are poisoned in the palm oil plantations of Indonesia. Statistics also suggest that the lives of around 600 humans and 450 elephants are lost each year in Asia due to such conflicts. About 80 per cent of the current distribution of elephants in India is outside protected areas, suggesting that palatable food is easily available outside its current habitat. Since rural stakeholders might not evaluate the moral nature of such retaliatory acts, it is of exigence for the State to explore alternatives to lethal methods that are used to overcome such human-animal conflicts.  
Mitigation Strategies
When there is continued ascent in human population and climate change is a driving force for elephants to move farther away from their range, increasing tolerance for such species plays a crucial role in the mitigation of conflict. Financial compensation for the loss of life and property, as promised by the government, must be used as an efficient means to increase the cohabitation of humans and elephants. Securing elephant corridors, that are narrow strips of land connecting two large habitats of elephants in order to facilitate local migration of the species and prevention fatalities due to accidents, is vital for their survival. Asian Elephant Alliance, an umbrella initiative by five NGOs, aims to collectively secure 96 of the existing 101 elephant corridors across 12 Indian States. Translocation, a lesser tested method, involves tranquillisation, immobilisation and transportation of elephants that cause problems. Despite this technique facing criticism for habitat fragmentation, unpleasant, yet harmless shocks are administered by electric fences that are used to effectively deter animals from entering a territory. The Karnataka Elephant Task Force, for instance, has adopted a zone-based approach for tackling conflicts in different regions by adopting an innovative measure of the Elephant-Proof trench which is a wide and deep ditch that the elephant cannot step over.
Indo-German Cooperation on Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation in India (HWC Project)
The HWC project commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development in conjunction with the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change seeks to employ a holistic approach towards the mitigation of human-wildlife conflicts at the National level, assist the States of West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Karnataka in developing their own Action Plans and also outline certain Standard Operating Procedures. It encourages the participation of stakeholders, strengthening of scientific procedures and mitigation research, and the shift from conflict to a harmonious co-existence of all species.
It must be borne in mind that conflicts between humans and wildlife are inevitable. Owing to the influence of factors of climate change, which has led to a shift in the range of several species, humans complain of a so-called encroachment on territories inhabited by them. With livestock and wild ungulates having to share the same grazing fields in a country such as India with an ever-growing population and dwindling natural habitats of species, scientific mechanisms that support the peaceful co-existence of humans and animals must be adopted.
An aspect of mitigation of conflicts between humans and animals, be it elephants or even tigers, for instance, is the inclusion of local communities in policymaking and ensuring that communities are offered assistance from public authorities either in the form of compensation for the losses they suffer or in the provision of technical specialists in the implementation of preventive mechanisms to avoid such conflicts.
While cruelty towards animals and elephants in particular (because of their conservation status) must be penalised, such conflicts must be addressed by improving administrative structures, increasing public awareness and involving local communities in conservation strategies.




Sanjana Gopal, is a 2020 law graduate from Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.

In Content Picture Credit: Ommcom News



Kindly note that the views and opinions expressed are of the author and not of the Indian Journal of Law and Public Policy.

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