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Preventing Conflict

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It is reported that the Uttarakhand Forest Department plans to jack up its ability to prevent human-wildlife conflict, which includes sending personnel to learn from other states that have a better record in this matter. This is, of course, good as it indicates sincerity and a willingness to learn. It is also a fact that the situation is urgent as the number of deaths caused by wildlife, particularly leopards, remains high.
As Forest Minister Harak Singh Rawat has stated, migration from the hill villages has also exacerbated the situation. Earlier, when there was a large enough population in each village and all the fields were farmed, the animals remained on the periphery and did not feel emboldened enough to attack so much in the inhabited areas. Now, with nearly deserted villages, they are less intimidated by human presence. A rising leopard population and possible decline in prey could also be a factor.
It is also a matter of concern that Uttarakhand does not have a sophisticated enough defence system against intrusive wildlife despite the presence of the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun. The institution should be in the forefront of evolving responses through its knowledge base and the availability of advanced modern technology. It should be aware of best practices the world over. Is it because of a failure of the state government, the forest department and the WII to interface productively?
There is one way, in particular, where such cooperation can be fundamentally fruitful and that is by producing an informative education component for the schools in the hills, as well as creating booklets that describe the behaviour of specific animals, their needs and the ways to co-exist with them. People need to be told how to deal with emergencies of every conceivable kind. Be it the women foraging for wood and fodder in the forest, the children walking to school or the farmer in the field, each should know the possible threats and the ways to prevent them by changing their own behaviour. They should also know the level of threat each animal poses so that creatures that may blunder into human habitation are not attacked unnecessarily. People can also know about where in the forest and nearby areas which animal is in residence so that those areas can be avoided, or approached carefully. Animals, too, are creatures of habit and knowing this can help predict their behaviour. As such, educating the people can go a long way in minimising conflict.