There has been a lot of concern expressed, lately, by the Facebook and Twitter eco-warriors about the condition of wildlife in the country. The most recent headline grabbing incident was the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala caused by eating booby trapped fruit reportedly meant for wild boars. In actual fact, wildlife-human conflict is an almost every day event in India, particularly in states with considerable forest cover like Uttarakhand. Just on Wednesday there were reports of a tiger killing two buffaloes, and a leopard ‘massacring’ eighty sheep in a corral. Unfortunately, the measures taken by government to deal with this problem – insufficient as they are – remain poorly implemented at the grassroots level. This creates resentment among the affected human population bordering the forests and further endangers the already threatened wildlife as a consequence.
The long term and effective solution to this conflict is widespread and grassroots education of the human populace on co-existing with wildlife. Every villager – child, woman or man – should be a ‘wildlife and forestry expert’. This can be made possible by conducting training programmes around the year based on content prepared by genuine experts in every related field (not the suit and tie wearing ‘wildlife scientists at so-called institutes, or the pot-bellied ‘forest officers’ that prefer idling in the air-conditioned offices). If preparing the curriculum requires importing experts from across the globe, so be it – it will prove far more cost-effective in the long term.
From childhood, the villagers must be made to attend a session every week in which every aspect of their neighbouring forests should be explained to them. Incentives to attend should be provided in the form of snacks to eat and useful prizes to be won in subject related tests. Once they understand the importance of the forests and the wild animals, the majority will do what is required for co-existence. Governments are increasingly realising that practices economically beneficial to the villagers are also good for the forests, so programmes such as pine leaves collection, or planting mixed varieties of trees are being encouraged. Many traditional practices can be integrated in the training thereby transforming village folk into shareholders, rather than resentful ‘outsiders’. Once they learn the ‘nature of the beast’, people will know how to avoid conflict, adopt safety measures, use innovative and safe ways to protect villages and domestic animals, and deal effectively with crises. Eventually, they will take pride in their lifelong pursuit of this knowledge and be protective of ‘their’ animals and forests. Nature will benefit as a whole.