Hyderabad: Habitat loss, forest degradation, fragmentation, cattle grazing and human-induced pressures are some of the factors contributing to an increase in man-animal conflict, experts say.
According to them, human-induced pressures are not only resulting in reduction of wildlife but also impacting availability of food and water forcing the animals to stray into human habitations.
The killing of two persons by suspected maneater tigers in a span of 18 days in November 2020, the deaths of leopards and other animals in road and rail accidents or by electrocution, sighting of big cats, all point to the increasing human-wildlife conflict in parts of Telangana.
Incidents of cattle killed by wild animals like tigers and leopards, damage to crops and human habitations are being reported frequently from across the state.
A senior forest department official said the department is taking various measures to deal with the problem. The department is working to restore wildlife habitats and is ensuring water availability in the forests all through the year.
It is also taking steps like regulating the collection of minor forest produce, introducing rotational grazing by opening certain areas for grazing once in three years, preventing and controlling forest fires and curbing poaching.
In December 2020, the department had sought the help of the National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Institute of India in dealing with tigers in Komaram Bheem Asifabad district after they mauled two persons to death.
In the first incident on November 11, a 20-year-old tribal youth was mauled to death by a tiger in the Girelli forest area of Rebanna Range in Asifabad division.
A 15-year-old tribal girl was killed by a tiger on November 29 in Bejjur reserve forest in Asifabad.
Following the killings, a 10-member committee was constituted to suggest measures for mitigating man-animal conflict in the state.
It was then announced that the committee will propose measures to avoid recurrence of incidents of tigers killing human beings.
The government had announced that the panel will also suggest measures to evolve a mechanism for mitigating human-wildlife conflict and review and propose revision, if any, to the existing compensation package.
The committee headed by minister for environment and forests, Indrakaran Reddy, is yet to submit its report.
Then Principal Chief Conservator of Forests R. Sobha had also constituted a seven-member monitoring committee as per the Standard Operating Procedure of the NTCA to track and deal with the big cats.
The deaths of leopards and other wild animals in road and rail accidents and electrocution also point to the growing man-animal conflict. About two weeks ago, a leopard was killed after being hit by an unknown speeding vehicle in Kamareddy district.
The leopard, aged about one-and-a-half years, was found dead on National Highway 44 in the Daggi forest area.
Kamareddy and adjoining Nizamabad district have reported similar incidents in the past. Pocharam Wildlife Sanctuary spread over the two districts is known for a wide variety of wildlife including more than 60 leopards.
In September last year, a leopard was killed in a hit-and-run case in Mahabubnagar district. A speeding vehicle hit the animal on National Highway 167 near Devarakadra town.
Animal conservation activists have been demanding that the speed of vehicles on highways passing through forests be controlled to prevent such accidents. They have also suggested construction of underpasses and bridges in forests for animals.
Podu lands or the forest lands under cultivation by tribals and other forest-dwellers pose a challenge in the efforts by the forest department to deal with the man-animal conflict.
The state government recently embarked on a new exercise to address the long-pending issue of podu lands as is being demanded by tribal communities who have been practicing podu or shifting cultivation on forest land.
Under podu cultivation, cultivators raise crops on a piece of land in one season and move to different locations the next season.
The conflict over podu lands has been raging in parts of the state for the last few years and on a few occasions led to clashes between tribals claiming right over such land and forest officials, who wanted to take up plantation as part of the state government’s plantation programme Haritha Haram’ aimed at improving the state’s green cover.
Under Haritha Haram’ the state government has planted over 220 crore saplings in the last seven years. The government claims it to be the third largest effort of its kind in human history.
The tribals claim that plantations on podu lands violate their rights, guaranteed under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
The Adivasi Joint Action Committee has alleged that adivasis cultivating podu lands for decades are being driven out by the forest department. It claims that forest officials are taking away their land every year.
The forest officials, however, argued that they are taking up plantation on forest lands. According to them, the Forest Rights Act applies only to those lands which were under cultivation before December 2005.
Some places in agency areas witnessed clashes during the last couple of years. Tribals claiming rights over podu lands tried to stop forest officials who went there to plant saplings.
A tribal legislator belonging to ruling party Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) had gone to the extent of threatening a war. Rega Kantha Rao, who represents Pinapaka Assembly constituency in Khammam district, had asked the tribals not to allow forest officials to enter their villages and if they do detain them.
The government recently decided to receive claims from tribals and others to settle the podu lands issue. Village committees have been formed as per Recognition of Forest Rights (ROFR) Act to receive the claims.
Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao has suggested that all those tribals involved in podu cultivation within the forest should be provided with an alternative government land nearby for cultivation. If there is no government land available, they should be provided with land on the outer periphery of the forestland. He said they will also be provided with free water, power and houses.
Kagaznagar Tiger corridor of Komaram Bheem district which connects Kawal Tiger Reserve with the tiger-inhabited forests of Maharashtra has become the hotbed of man-animal conflict.
It was estimated last year that the tiger corridor has around eight tigers that are spillovers from Maharashtra and unable to return to their habitat.
Encroachment of 17,000 hectares of forest land in Kagaznagar division due to podu cultivation is said to be a key reason for the conflict.
Around 95 per cent of them are reported to be post-2006 encroachments making them ineligible for regularization under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act.
Tigers also made Kagaznagar area their habitat as it has numerous streams out of which Peddavagu is one. It was on the banks of Peddavagu that a suspected maneater tiger mauled a tribal girl to death when she was picking up cotton a few meters away from it.