Monday, February 17, 2014

Thar desert: man and animal in conflict?

At sunset when the Thar desert (Rajasthan) is golden and the colours are surreal. This is a group of female neelgai antelope with young ones. 
We were ooh-ing and aah-ing when our guide explained to us that the neelgai were a major threat to his farm crop (millet and mustard are grown in the Thar, apart from many other things). The negative feeling in his voice was clear: he did not like these animals. His tone made me stop and think about man-animal conflict, and how groups of people who traditionally have coexisted with animals are now losing their tolerance.

Traditionally the neelgai has not been hunted in India because it is believed that this is a type of cow. But attitudes are changing.

I don't blame the farmer. Life is precarious in the desert, and farming is not easy. Once the crop is sown, it must be guarded from being eaten, which is of course, taxing for small farmers (since the labour usually is sourced entirely from the farmer's family).

Unfortunately, there is no systematic, nation-wide approach towards managing man-animal conflict. The root causes of the problem are well known: widespread loss of natural habitat and food sources, changes in land use and cropping patterns, cutting off of wildlife corridors, and so on.

What is to be done? We need comprehensive policies that treat land in a holistic manner irrespective of state boundaries; we need to think about our 'development' model. Most importantly, we need to stop producing more and more Indians!! The huge population needs to stop growing at unsustainable rates.

None of these solutions are easy.

Here's an article that talks about the man-animal conflicts in India.

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