Wildlife & Biodiversity

Human-wildlife conflict among greatest threats to animal species: WWF and UNEP report

Problem as much a development and humanitarian issue as a conservation concern, it says

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 08 July 2021

Conflict between humans and animals is one of the main threats to the long-term survival of some of the world’s most iconic species, a new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), released July 8, 2021, has said.

The report, titled, A future for all - the need for human-wildlife coexistence, features contributions from 155 experts from 40 organisations based in 27 countries, according to a WWF press statement.

It highlights that globally, conflict-related killing affects more than 75 per cent of the world’s wild cat species. Besides, many other terrestrial and marine carnivore species such as polar bears and Mediterranean monk seals as well as large herbivores such as elephants are affected.

In India, data from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change indicates that over 500 elephants were killed between 2014-2015 and 2018-2019, mostly due to human-elephant conflict. During the same period, 2,361 people were killed as a result of conflict with elephants.

“Global wildlife populations have fallen an average of 68 per cent since 1970,” the statement quoted Margaret Kinnaird, global wildlife practice leader at WWF International, as saying.

“Human-wildlife conflict, in combination with other threats, has driven the significant decline of species that were once abundant and species that are naturally less abundant, have been pushed to the brink of extinction,” she added.

Kinnaird warned that “the devastating trend would only worsen and wreak irreversible impact on ecosystems and biodiversity, unless urgent action is taken.”

Such impact was not limited to wildlife. It would also affect humans who lived alongside wild animals, especially in developing countries rich in biodiversity. It could cause injury, death or loss of livelihood, the report noted.

India will be most-affected by human-wildlife conflict, the report said. This was because it had the world’s second-largest human population as well as large populations of tigers, Asian elephants, one-horned rhinos, Asiatic lions and other species.

“India’s elephants probably embody the problem the best,” the report said. The animals are restricted to just 3-4 per cent of their original habitat. Their remaining range is plagued by deforestation, invasive species and climate change.

The animals are thus pushed to find food outside of protected areas where they clash with humans. This, in turn, causes the deaths of humans as well as loss of livelihoods for their families.

Completely eradicating human-wildlife conflict was not possible, the report said. “But well-planned, integrated approaches to managing it can reduce conflicts and lead to a form of coexistence between people and animals,” it added.

The report gave the example of Sonitpur district in Assam. Here, destruction of forests had forced elephants to raid crops, in turn causing deaths of both, elephants and humans.

In response, WWF India had developed the ‘Sonitpur Model’ during 2003-2004 by which community members were connected with the state forest department. They were given training on how to work with them to drive elephants away from crop fields safely.

WWF India had also developed a low-cost, single strand, non-lethal electric fence to ease the guarding of crops from elephants.

The project had brought dividends. For instance, in the Gohpur area of Biswanath district, some 212 hectares of crops were being lost annually to elephants before these interventions in 2015.

Afterwards, crop losses dropped to zero for four years running. Human and elephant deaths also reduced significantly.

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