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LS polls: Human-animal conflict emerges as a major talking point in Kerala

Livestock and cherished pets have tragically become prey to maulings, as elephants and wild boars stray from forests into agricultural areas, leaving farmers disheartened and distressed.

LS polls: Human-animal conflict emerges as a major talking point in Kerala

An elephant herd in the catchment area of Sholayar dam in Valparai

KOCHI: Amidst the serene landscapes and lush greenery of Kerala's hilly and forested districts, a troubling saga has unfolded in recent months, with communities facing a surge in human-animal conflicts that have left a trail of death, injury, and mounting economic losses in their wake.

At least nine lives have been lost in Idukki and Wayanad Districts in the last three months, and numerous others have been injured in wildlife attacks, particularly by elephants, tigers and wild boars, among others.

Livestock and cherished pets have tragically become prey to maulings, as elephants and wild boars stray from forests into agricultural areas, leaving farmers disheartened and distressed.

As the state grapples with these tragic events, the issue has become a major talking point in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), led by the Congress are pushing for amendments to the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, which falls under the concurrent list. They argue that amendments are necessary to address the increasing incidents of human-animal conflicts.

On the other hand, the BJP-led union government contends that the existing provisions of the Act are sufficient to handle the situation involving attacking wild animals.

Considering the recent surge in human-animal conflict, the Kerala Assembly passed a resolution on February 14 that called on the Centre to amend the Act and simplify the procedures to deal with wild animals that pose a threat to human life and property.

Kerala proposes amending Section 11(1)(A) of the Act, transferring authority from Chief Wildlife Warden to Chief Conservators of Forests, facilitating easier management of wild animals posing threats to human life.

Former Idukki MP and current LDF candidate for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, Joice George, while talking to PTI, said the prey-predator balance was very important in the sustainable management of wildlife and the ecology.

Referring to various international studies, including those by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the Left candidate said sustainable management of wildlife also includes ''kill to conserve.'' ''If the wildlife population increases, then the method of culling can be adopted. It is not just to mitigate the human-animal conflict but for the better interest of conservation, forests, and ecology,'' George claimed.

He said the Left government in the state has taken proactive measures to mitigate the human-animal conflict. George stressed the importance of sustainable wildlife management and recognised the need to simplify processes to ease the human-animal conflict, although the Centre believes that current laws are sufficient.

Congress leader and Wayanad district panchayat president Samshad Marakkar also stressed the need for updating laws to adapt to current times. He criticised both state and central governments for handling wildlife issues 'irresponsibly.' ''This will be a matter of discussion in the upcoming election, not just in the Wayanad but in other districts where there are forests as well. People need peaceful life. They will definitely vote for those who take proactive steps to safeguard their lives,'' the Congress leader said.

Marakkar claimed that the Forest Department suffers from shortage of funds, lacking necessary equipment to handle wild animals, and called for an amendment to simplify the procedural complications involved in culling or tranquilizing.

Apart from political parties, the Catholic Church, particularly the Idukki diocese of Syro-Malabar church, is alarmed by the rising incidents of human-animal conflicts, with at least six deaths occurring in the hill district in the past two months alone, prompting them to consider agitation.

The church asked the government to hand over authority to kill the problematic species to the people instead of creating bureaucratic complications.

''Now the panchayats have the authority to kill the wild boars. But when a wild boar attacks someone, we need to get sanction from the concerned authority to either catch or kill the vermin. It is impractical, as by the time the procedures are over, it might have attacked another person or damaged crops,'' Fr Jins Karackattu, the Director of the Media Commission of the Idukki diocese, said.

The existing law of 1972 has become obsolete, and both the state and the central governments have the responsibility to bring in a long-term solution to the issue, he stated.

The ruling BJP at the Centre believes the current law already allows for dealing with wild animals threatening humans, citing recent amendments emphasizing full protection for residential areas.

''There is an existing law. The Union Forest Minister had clearly said that there are provisions to kill wild animals. However, the state government is unable to implement the law, and they are finding some lame excuses,'' The BJP's state general secretary, George Kurien, told PTI.

He said any number of amendments don't matter if the state government lacks the will to implement them.

Fr Kuriakose Vellachallil, a local priest at a church in Wayanad, and a relative of Paul, a forest watcher who lost his life in a recent wild elephant attack, alleged the state government was not ready to implement the existing law.

''There is a central law that allows the chief wildlife warden to order the killing of any wild animal that ventures into human habitat if it is a threat to life. But the state government is not ready to use this law as it falls under the concurrent list,'' Vellachallil said. But there was a need for an amendment to the Act to control the growing number of wild animals.

Although political parties and community organisations complain about animal attacks, the statistics available with the state Forest Department show that in Kerala and its adjacent forest lands, the number of wild animals has not increased. Moreover, forest officials say that obtaining state-specific population data is challenging due to the migratory nature of animals.

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