Make hunters and inhabitants in forests collaborators in wildlife conservation
The human-wildlife conflict has been going on for years in Goa’s forests. However, the core issues of the conflict were never satisfactorily resolved. The forest department has finally moved a proposal to simplify the process for compensation to the farmers whose domestic animals are killed by wild animals. The department seeks to vest the powers to sanction compensation in the deputy conservator of forests. Persons whose domestic animals are killed by wild animals would have to apply to the range forest officer of the concerned area. If the subsequent inquest by the veterinary officer concludes that the animal was killed in an attack by wild animals, the deputy conservator of forests would sanction the compensation. Easing the cumbersome process to pay compensation would go a long way in providing relief to the people who lose domestic animals to attacks by wild animals. It will also reduce chances of retaliatory violence against wild animals by the human population.
Recently, the case of a cattle owner in the Bicholim taluka came up who lost 10 bovines to a leopard. The cattle owner claimed to have witnessed the leopard killing his animals and said the killing of his cattle had caused him a loss of Rs 80,000. These killings have been reported in the wake of killing of domestic animals by a tiger in the Sattari taluka. It was the loss of domestic animals to attacks by big cats and the alleged indifference of the forest department in paying out compensation to the people who lost their animals that led to the massacre of four tigers in Sattari. It was only after the killing of four tigers that the forest department woke up and has proposed to simplify the process of paying compensation. Now that the proposal has been moved to the government, it should give concurrence without delay so as to prevent any more killing of wild animals in retaliation by affected people.
As the compensation process gets simplified and fast-tracked, the forest department and other government agencies also need to find out all the reasons behind big cats preying on domestic animals. Is it because prey populations in the forest areas are diminishing? Given the fact that forest cover has not decreased in the state it is unlikely that the prey populations have decreased, unless they have been killed in a large number by hunters. There is no denying the fact that hunting has been prevalent in the state for various kinds of animals. Plants and herbivorous and carnivorous animals in forests survive in an interlinked environment. If any links to the chain are broken, the chain gets affected. The state government’s track record in checking hunting has not been very remarkable. Irresponsible citizens who go out for hunting, corrupt forest officials and conniving politicians are all responsible for illegal killing of certain types of animals for food.
Whether it is hunters or the inhabitants within forests, the forest department and other government agencies have to reach out to them to make them partners in conservation of forests and wildlife. They must become collaborators. The forest department has to seek the cooperation of other departments, such as police, to develop extension, education and outreach programmes to build partnership with alleged hunters. The police department can provide a list of gun licence holders and they should be made partners through the outreach programmes. Food and diet experts could be a part of the programme in order to educate the hunters how their lust for certain wild animals could be gradually replaced with love for alternative foods.
Similar extension and outreach programmes should be conducted to make the inhabitants of the forests collaborators in conservation. There should be regular meetings of the forest department and other government agencies with them in order to enhance mutual understanding communication and cooperation. A contact list with phone numbers of inhabitants and concerned forest officials should be prepared and shared by all for immediate problem resolution. After four tigers were killed recently, the government decided to relocate the local inhabitants. If close, committed and constant coordination between inhabitants and forest officials is maintained, intervention would be quick and there might not be any need for relocation of local inhabitants.