Thursday 19 October 2017 News Updated at 12:10 PM IST
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Serving people & wildlife - Deccan Herald
Serving people & wildlife
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Wild Seve assists people in claiming compensation. Anubhav Vanamamalai
Mahadevaswamy, a spirited young man has travelled three km from his village near Bandipur Tiger Reserve to meet a farmer, Mahadeva, on a rainy morning. An exasperated Mahadeva wasted no time in describing why he had phoned early that morning.

A lone elephant had eaten 30% of cotton plants he had sown. No other plants were trampled in the entire three-acre patch. Giant foot patches shaped by spilled water and fresh dung for evidence, it seemed the animal even enjoyed a break at a pool nearby. The
elephant’s midnight merry had cost Mahadeva nearly Rs 5,000.

Mahadevaswamy, who tended to the issue, is part of the Wild Seve team, a first of its kind voluntary service in India. Dr Krithi Karanth of Wildlife Conservation Society is the founder of Wild Seve. In 2013, her research in Karnataka showed that although 64% of people were facing crop damage by wildlife, only a fraction of them (31%) would claim compensation from authorities owing to bureaucratic hurdles. This motivated Krithi to establish a responsive system that assists people to claim compensation.

Across the 600 villages lying within 10 km of Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks, a field agent with Wild Seve responds to a farmer’s distress call. "What used to take one week to gather paperwork is now completed in one visit thanks to Wild Seve,” says Shankarappa who lives in Naganapura village.

Large-bodied wild mammals use ancestral pathways to navigate through the landscape. People who live outside the boundary of a protected area face heavy economic losses, particularly when these pathways are located in the heart of crop lands. In rare cases, human lives are also lost. Research done by Krithi has revealed that between 2000-2010, more than 44,000 incidents related to human-wildlife conflict were reported.

Timely redressal

Culturally, people in India are known for their willingness to share space with wild animals. When they face losses due to wildlife, it is generally observed that people are forgiving and compassionate. Innate tolerance to wildlife by people is tested when a problem is not addressed in a timely manner by authorities.

Across India, there are several incidents of tigers, leopards and elephants having been electrocuted, poisoned, burned or beaten to death in acts of retribution. The Forest Department, often understaffed, is burdened with myriad responsibilities. This makes it difficult for them to attend to conflict cases immediately, thereby slowing down compensation disbursal. Wild Seve’s operations are designed to address this gap.

Earlier, Prabhuswamy from Naganapura village would feel discouraged and frustrated to apply for compensation as he would spend more money in seeing through paperwork.

For years he struggled to cope with the losses, but he finally succumbed to desperation and harmed some elephants. Now, however, he is among Wild Seve’s highest value beneficiaries. In their two years of service, Wild Seve has responded to 7,458 complaints, of which 2,246 claims have been settled.

Breaking down the various dimensions of human wildlife conflict to arrive at feasible solutions to mitigate its effect is a priority for wildlife conservation efforts in India. This requires diligent assessment of ground realities, engagement with stakeholders, an understanding of the ecology of wildlife and, in particular, the implementation of science-based solutions. Improving efficiency of compensation disbursal mechanisms is one among several effective solutions to de-escalate human-wildlife conflict.

To empower people caught in conflict with wildlife, scientists and conservationists have also implemented measures like awareness campaigns. As seen in Wild Seve’s work, a synergistic relationship between the Forest Department and important stakeholders can be effective in promoting the harmony needed to accommodate wildlife in human society. ‍