The death of two women in quick succession attributed to a ferocious bison has compelled the residents of Shel, Dhada, Paikul and Melavli wards of the Guleli panchayat in the Sattari taluka to demand that the forest department deal with the wild bison within eight days. The area comes under the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and is in close proximity of the Western Ghats. While a 45-year-old woman was gored to death by the bison in a cashew plantation earlier this month, a 25-year-old girl was killed in an accident when her brother lost control of his two-wheeler after the bison appeared. The presence of a dangerous bison has created fear among local villagers and they are enraged over the ‘lack of response’ of the forest officials. Soon after the first attack, the forest authorities had promised to trace the ferocious bison and relocate it. Their failure to keep the promise and the second death due to the animal, though not directly in an attack by it, have caused public resentment against forest officials, who need to take immediate action to trap and relocate the bison.
The attack by the wild bison appears to be due to unresolved animal-human conflict in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. Though wild animals and people have been living in the area for generations, this is for the first time a bison has attacked humans. In the past, houses were far away from the forest areas and people would hardly come in direct contact with wild animals in their daily life, but the scene has changed over the last few decades. People have been constructing houses in forests which has led to the shrinking the habitats of wild animals. Many of the houses in the forest area have been built illegally on government (forest) land, often with the blessings of politicians. With human population encroaching on their habitats, wild animals are naturally coming in conflict with people.
It was hoped that with the creation of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary in 1999 human-animal conflict would not happen. The creation of the sanctuaries was reluctantly accepted by politicians. The creation of the sanctuaries, however, brought cheers to wildlife enthusiasts who seized the opportunity to seek declaration of the Mhadei Wildlife sanctuary as a tiger reserve after the wildlife census revealed presence of tiger in the area. The 2014 census revealed presence of five tigers in the area; forest officials and wildlife lovers expect the numbers to go up in the recently concluded wildlife census whose figures are yet to be declared. In case the number of tigers shows an increase, it will give a new impetus to the endeavours for getting the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary declared as a tiger reserve.
The area where bison attacks have taken place is home to different species of wild animals. Apart from bison, there have been sightings of panthers, bears, deer and other animals in the area. Claims of presence of tiger in the area have also been made by villagers as well as forest officials. All concerned departments must cooperate with the forest department to formulate and carry out measures to prevent human-animal conflicts. There would be severe restrictions on the activities of the local population with regard to wildlife. The government should remove all the illegal constructions from the forest areas to give adequate space to wildlife. If the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary is declared as a tiger reserve, the conflict with humans could become even more serious. It is better to keep the human population as far away from the Sanctuary as possible.
As forest officials make efforts to trace and relocate the ferocious bison, they need to find out whether there is just one or there are more bisons in the area that are likely to come in conflict with the human population. Suggestions are sometimes made that the forest department built electric fencing to keep wild animals from entering human habitation. However, there are risks to the idea. There is also possibility of the fence being dismantled by wild animals. The forest department had conducted an impact assessment study on the proposed tiger reserve in and around the protected areas of the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and the Molem National Park. The findings of the study have not been made public so far. The forest department ought to have put up its findings in the public domain so that people are aware of the reality and take steps for their protection. The human-animal conflict must be ended for the benefit of both.