Coexist, Don't Collide: Wildlife Expert

Says there is no avoiding animals even in urban spaces as greenery remains vital for people

Published: 12th September 2015 03:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th September 2015 03:47 AM   |  A+A-

Coexist

QUEEN’S ROAD:  People, even those living in cities, must learn to make room for animals and there is no getting around it, says environmental scientist T R Shankar Raman of the Nature Conservation Foundation, a non-governmental organisation based in Mysuru.

Over the last few years, there have been many cases of man-animal conflict and Raman says the onus is on people to make peaceful coexistence a reality. Raman, who was in the city this week to inaugurate the Student Conference of Conservation Science at IISc, sits down for a chat with City Express.

Should cities have animals? Monkeys come into apartments, elephants into fields, leopards into cities. What do we do about them?

One has to learn to minimise negative interactions with animals. For instance, improper garbage disposal attracts monkeys. They have learnt that interaction with humans gets them easy food. We need to think different.

Proper civic sense is a necessity to be able to live alongside monkeys. The problem is not the animal, it is the place. Karnataka is famous for its roadside trees, especially banyans where monkeys can feed. It is also possible that indiscriminate cutting of trees is encouraging monkeys to look for food in human settlements.

Nature conservation must take place everywhere, including urban areas. In Bengaluru, we have a network of lakes and on a morning walk, we can see 80 to 90 bird species. There is no avoiding them and urban citizens too need greenery and nature.

How do we manage elephants that stray?

Elephants are not simply straying into human settlements. That area is part of their range. The question is can we make space for them? Most of the time, the elephants are not the problem, the location of the village is. In many places, what was once a thriving forest is now inside a tea garden. Our team in Valparai (in Tamil Nadu) has developed systems to track elephant movement, and also an early warning system to inform people where they are.

In most cases, the animals just move on without doing anything. We just help make sure man and animal stay off each other’s paths. The community chips in by switching on warning lights to indicate that people should stay away. After all, most deaths are accidental. With this, both the number of deaths and damage caused have come down.

What about leopard attacks?

Research in Maharashtra has shown that capturing and moving felines to new locations does not solve the problem. The animal will only create problems at the new site. Proactive measures may help. Many farmers are not protecting their livestock well enough. Maybe they can be helped to protect them through herding practices. There could be insurance schemes to cover deaths. It is difficult to predict leopard movement.

Can you talk a bit about your area of work?

One of the projects we are engaged in is restoration of degraded forest fragments in Anamalai Hills. These are forest patches left in the middle of tea and coffee plantations. We work with private companies and the Forest Department to protect some patches for regeneration. In some others, we try and remove genus such as Lantana that are invasive. We have planted about 116 species of rainforest plants and lianas in some patches. We have planted and grown thousands of saplings, and they control fires and the spread of invasive species. The fragments are acting as refuges for wildlife to thrive.

Alongside rivers, riparian forests flourish. Tea plantations with such strips are more suitable for wildlife than those without. Restoration is not just about regrowing forests, it is also about thinking about the countryside and coexisting with the wildlife there.

How do locals and farmers react to your efforts?

We find cooperation most of the time. One way to encourage farmers to adopt conservation is telling them the benefits of sustainable agriculture. Associated with this form of agriculture is the system of certification, which has guidelines for farmers. On the other hand, consumers also need to be made aware of where their produce is coming from.

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