In one of the most widely read treatises on conflict, John W Burton describes it as an inevitable outcome of interaction, while Lederach expands the definition to state that it is the consequences of conflict that determine whether it is constructive or injurious.
If conflict can be described as a difference between people that touches them in a significant way, it would naturally manifest itself into expressed disagreements amongst entities who see incompatible goals and potential interference in achieving these goals. This would then mean that the usage of the term human-animal conflict is flawed! It is more a case of human-animal interaction with one of the parties expressing disastrous consequences.
On a serious note though, the conflict continues to exist, and in fact is exacerbated because the resolution process is focussed upon physical and spatial measures such as use of fences/trenches, economic measures such as crop damage compensation or compensation for loss of life/property, technical measures such as change in crop patterns or abandoning cattle and livestock holding by farming households, legal and punitive measures and in extreme instances, the relocation and rehabilitation of human habitations. Evidently, it is a case of treating the symptoms and ignoring the disease.
While the merit of the above set of measures cannot be discounted, it is a fact that they have not led to conflict resolution. In most cases, conflicts arise from a deeper conflict between different groups of people, or a conflict between people and wildlife or even a conflict between people about wildlife. Despite the inherent complexity and depth of conflicts, most management approaches are dealt with as transactional disputes that can be negotiated or resolved once common interests are established.
In addition, the fact that the scenario is typified by a near exclusive engagement of only wildlife biologists and conservationists, to the neglect of other domain experts could well be one of the major reasons for the continued persistence of the issue. At a fundamental level though, the hidden dimension of not having a robust land use policy is probably the prime driver of the conflict. Research has established that conservation conflicts often serve as proxies for conflicts over more fundamental, non-material issues, including issues that are erroneously labelled as obscure: for instance: ‘feeling connected and belonging to one’s lands’. Efforts to resolve the conflicts would falter in the absence of a land use policy for even the most accepted approach of stakeholder engagement would be reduced to a superficiality.
It is matter of concern that most states, including Tamil Nadu use the norms set in place by the British as the template for defining land use. This translates into a certain portion of the area to be protected, and the rest to be opened up for development. It fails to recognise and thereby regulate land use in areas that constitute buffers. Worse still, the term buffer is used only in a very limited context of a said number of hectares being declared as a buffer zone by the Department of Forests. The buffer areas are often typified by high levels of human-animal conflict. These extremely sensitive and vulnerable zones, are in fact of greater relevance to the adjacent human habitations and need to be protected not only as shock absorbers but also for continued provision of ecosystem services.
A lack of consideration for resolving human-animal conflict as an inherent component of the state’s development, combined with a disproportionate focus on material and even spiritual enlightenment would only serve to intensify the existing predicament.
— The writer is Managing Trustee, Care Earth Trust