An open invitation to human conflict

The proposed Mekedatu project would not only destroy 53 square kilometers of virgin forest, but also exacerbate human-wildlife conflict. The Cauvery Sanctuary in Karnataka is prone to frequent conflict between human and wildlife. Other protected areas such as Kodagu, Chamarajanagar, Hassan and Kali Tiger Reserve are also experiencing conflicts. Any new project will only make matters worse and add another layer of danger to these sensitive areas that have already been hit by challenges. The project, if implemented, is sure to unleash countless and unforgivable problems.

The pre-feasibility report of the Mekedatu project balancing drinking water and drinking water tank notes that several endangered species have been captured at the site (Chapter 4 of the site analysis). Unfortunately, few are endemic to the sanctuary itself. However, the report did not mention any solution, as the only viable option is to abandon the project. The project, if started, would damage the habitats of countless wild animals, and leave in its wake countless and irreparable destruction.

It will have a ripple effect on the Sangama, Halagoro and Moguro ranges of the Cauvery Sanctuary in the Kanakapura sub-district. From the perspective of human-wildlife conflict, the Mekedatu Project sounds the death knell for the Cauvery Reserve and its adjacent forests. Damage in one part of the forest will have a long-term effect on other parts as well. For example, in the newly carved Mogoro Sanctuary Series, a total of 757 incidents of human-wildlife conflict were recorded, of which 665 were incidents of crop loss and the rest of livestock and property losses. No loss of human life has been reported so far, but it may not be for long.

Poor planning of development activities in fragile habitats will only increase the incidence of conflict.

There are many causes of human-wild conflict, most notably habitat loss or destruction of elephant corridors, changes in cropping pattern, and encroachment on forest lands. Elephants, leopards and wild boars are animals that are frequently found in conflict with humans.

After protests organized by local residents asking them to address the increasing incursions of elephants and other wild animals on their fields, the forest department has taken temporary measures. To stem further conflict, the ministry has erected railway railings, sun fences, sun claws and elephant-proof trenches along forest edges. However, the cost of maintaining these measures is high – the Mugguru domain alone has taken in over Rs 5 crore in four years and compensation or gratuities paid to victims add to the cost to the treasury.

Nestled between Bannerghatta National Park in the north and MM Hills Sanctuary and BRT Tiger Sanctuary in the south, Cauvery Sanctuary forms one of the best wildlife corridors in the country. It also links the forests of Tamil Nadu and Kerala via other protected areas making it one of the richest elephant habitats. Any damage to the shelter leads to further fragmentation and increased conflict. Large wild animals such as elephants, tigers and gaurs need continuous forests free of human interference for their movement and other environmental purposes. There are enough scientific studies available to prove why development projects, such as the one now under discussion, in fragile ecosystems are an invitation to risk.

India is currently leaving 4 percent of its land as Protected Areas (PA) which fall under the purview of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Unfortunately, however, there are no protected areas free from habitat loss whether through railways, roads, dams or others. Giving a green signal to Mekedatu does more harm than good even if trees are planted elsewhere to make up for the loss of plants. The plan to give an alternative plantation site for forests in Ramanagara and Chamaraganagar districts will not help re-establish the rich biodiversity of ranges that we may be losing. It is not a viable solution to human-animal conflict. Wild animals address can not be changed! Planting trees will not make a forest in all its diversity; We have to protect the great masses of forests and prevent their fragmentation.

It is better for policy makers to focus on innovative alternatives to meet the growing demands for drinking water and energy, using technological advances rather than depleting forest cover. If this is not the case, the conflict between man and wildlife will worsen, and the cost of remedial measures will increase without a permanent solution. The best way to reduce conflict is to say “no” to further habitat loss by reducing human intervention.

It is time for those in power to think about alternatives that leave our forests alone and safe.

(The author is an HR expert and wildlife conservation enthusiast)

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