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Man-animal conflict: Wildlife comepensation policy needs to be revised, say expert

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    While the importance of conserving ecosystems for sustainable development is widely recognised, it is increasingly evident that despite delivering benefits, conservation often comes at local cost.

    Despite having a well-intentioned policies, some of the poorest people on the planet are still bearing the cost of forest conservation. Unless significant extra funding is provided for the beneficiaries of conservation and forest conservation will jeopardize, rather than contribute to, sustainable development goals.

    Photo credit: Anubhav Vanamamalai

    So, to avert this, scientists from Centre for Wildlife Conservation have called for the immediate need to improve access to financial compensation for livelihood losses resulting from human wildlife conflict (HWC) incurred by people living near protected areas (PAs).

    Compensation policy

    The Government of India employs compensation as a critical policy tool to mitigate HWC by alleviating economic costs experienced by people living around PAs. Thereby, the policy seeks to potentially reduce retaliation; promote cohabitation and tolerance among such communities towards wildlife.

    The Study

    The authors surveyed 2234 households and conducted 21 semistructured interviews of forest department staff in Jaisamand, Kumbhalgarh, Sitamata and Phulwari Wildlife Sanctuaries in Rajasthan. This quantitative and qualitative analysis found that compensation is failing to alleviate the costs of conservation for these households.

    The study titled Compensation as a Policy for Mitigating Human wildlife Conflict Around Four Protected Areas in Rajasthan, India' authored by Dr. Johnson, Dr. Karanth and Dr. Weinthal .

    Damages caused by herbivores still not eligible for compensation in India

    This study has identified two main reasons for this unintended policy outcome. One, a focus on charismatic megafauna such as big cats and elephants across the country has created institutional perceptions and pathways that narrowly define forms of HWC and accordingly, the eligibility for compensation and costs of conservation the government is willing to take on.

    Such narrow definitions ignore the real costs on households such as those resulting more frequently by herbivores like Nilgai and wild pigs which may far exceed the costs incurred due to tigers or elephants as was found to be case with Rajasthan. Several states in India, including Rajasthan, currently do not recognise losses from interactions with such herbivores as eligible for compensation.

    Second, a centrally located bureaucratic process is incongruent with the nature of local governance that favours an approach of give and take, or selective enforcement, in order to better align the state's conservation goals and the communities' subsistence needs. Centralisati on, instead, disempowers local officials and communities by removing their bargaining power required to enable this process.

    What the author says

    "Our research findings demonstrates how important problem definition is to finding workable policy solutions. In the areas we surveyed, local communities perceived human wildlife conflict as a serious problem whereas Rajasthan Forestry officials insisted it was insignificant. Both perspectives were actually right!" observes lead author Dr. Mckenzie F Johnson.

    Households experienced significant conflict perpetrated by herbivores that eat crops; however, the Rajasthan government defines human wildlife conflict essentially as livestock conflict a definition rooted in the experiences of other Indian states worried about tiger or leopard conflict. Our findings suggest it is important to draw on local experience to craft policy that will actually help foster both conservation and development" she states.

    Scientists suggest a change in policy

    The authors suggest a change in state policy to accommodate crop loss compensation to better represent the HWC landscape in Rajasthan. They also suggest establishing an entitlement based system as an alternative to the current, post hoc, incident based reporting and the highly bureaucratic compensation process that households find difficult to navigate.

    "Tolerance for wildlife and wildlife losses is exceptionally high in Rajasthan. To ensure persistence of wildlife in and outside protected areas, we need to empower these communities to protect their lives, property and livestock better which includes extending compensation to all forms of conflict" says Dr. Krithi Karanth.

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