Mitigating human-large carnivore conflict in India

 

By Arjun Puroshothaman, Ph.D. student

Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management-Kerala (IIITM-K)

Background:

Human- carnivore conflict is a rising concern all over the world. In my home country, India, the situation is no different. My research area, in Kerala, South India, is home to the Western Ghats, with areas of agricultural lands used by local communities and densely diverse forests inhabited by wildlife.

Female Royal Bengal tiger takes a cool bath at the field site

The majority of the population in the Wayanad district of Kerala, where I work, belongs to four ancient tribal communities called Kaatunaykar, Paniyar, Kurichyar, and Kurumar tribes.

Unfortunately, this area is a hotspot for human-wildlife conflict because humans and wildlife live in close proximity. Not only is there often direct conflict between humans and large carnivores over livestock attacks and agricultural damage, but local communities also suffer high mortality arising from zoonotic disease

transmissions (Kyasanur Forest Disease, Tuberculosis, Anthrax, Nipah, Rabies etc).

Local expert tracker Kelu assists team to find tiger tracks

The author (R) and Kelu (L) collecting tiger footprint images along a forest trail

 

At the same time, large carnivores like the Bengal tiger and common leopard face a severe decline in their populations due to habitat fragmentation and human:wildlife conflict. When a conflict occurs, retaliation against wildlife is a common outcome. These actions create a strong adverse effect on long-term biodiversity conservation goals.

So my primary focus is to mitigate human-carnivore conflict and establish human-wildlife co-existence.

There is no single solution identified yet to mitigate human:wildlife conflict, but evidence suggests that a combination of short-term and long term conflict mitigation strategies communicated to local communities by awareness-outreach programs, stands the best chance of success.

My approach, in collaboration with WildTrack

In the “toolbox” of mitigation strategies, tracking and monitoring wildlife at risk of being involved in conflict, is pivotal for both wildlife conservation and carnivore conflict mitigation. By knowing where at-risk animals roam, and where local communities are, it is then possible to put into place effective mitigation strategies, for example, to help local communities in at-risk areas protect their livestock more effectively, or to warn them when a large cat is in the area. In some cases, knowing the identity of a tiger who has killed some livestock will prevent random retaliation and might allow the farmer to decide to graze his livestock in a safer area.

River banks often provide excellent substrate for tiger footprints

It is already proven that WildTrack’s footprint identification technology (FIT) is a cost-effective method to track individual animals, and despite India’s wealth of expert tribal trackers, no studies of FIT have been undertaken in India.  To establish such a tool, a reference library of pugmark images is needed and that should be collected from the field according to WildTrack’s protocol.

We are already engaging local tribal communities and their traditional wildlife tracking skills to develop a reference database.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The left hind footprint of a female Royal Bengal tiger, collected along the same trail

In addition to introducing FIT as a new technology to monitor large carnivores in at-risk areas, we will use FIT to revive the skills of India’s traditional trackers and build their capacity as guardians of the ecosystem.

Years back, the tribal communities of Wayanad were widely dependent on the forest resources for food mainly bush meat and other plant origins. After the implementation of the Indian Wildlife Protection act 1972, their access to forests and forests resources was stopped and they moved to alternative jobs particularly in agriculture and other daily wage jobs. It is now realised that their wildlife tracking skills could be more valuable to the Forest Departments and research organizations to conduct wildlife census and anti-poaching surveillance schemes.

This study will incorporate the ancient traditional wildlife tracking skills of the tribal communities and modern Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques to develop accessible tools to help prevent human:wildlife conflict in the Western Ghats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Budget

Site no Particulars Unit Unit price US$ Total in US$
1 Remuneration for the tracker (Tribal) 180 (Days) 10.00 1800.00
2 Local travel for two person 180 (Days) 4.00 720.00
3 Long travel 6 45.00 270.00
4 Food for two person 180 (Days) 6.00 900.00
5 Stay for two person 180 (Days) 5.00 540.00
6. 10% overheads/admin costs 423.00
Total 4653.00

 

 

 

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