Where wild things areThe government has recently doubled the compensation amount for human casualties and property damage caused by wild animals that venture out of protected areas.
The government has recently doubled the compensation amount for human casualties and property damage caused by wild animals that venture out of protected areas. When the directive was first introduced in January 2013, the ex-gratia compensation to the kin of victims was Rs300,000 and in 2015, that amount was increased to Rs500,000. Now, it has been further raised to Rs 1 million.
If the authority responsible for this decision, the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), believes that raising compensation is a way to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, it is sorely mistaken. This directive only addresses the effect and not the cause of human-wildlife encounters—not to mention the fact that assigning a monetary value to a human life smacks of a pay-off, where compensation buys conciliation, but the root of the problem remains unaddressed.
Nearly 24 percent of Nepal’s land mass has been designated as protected areas, according to the National Planning Commission. These include national parks, wildlife reserves, conservation areas, hunting reserves and buffer zones. But with the increasing human population, encroachment on wildlife habitat is proving to be a serious threat. At least 30 serious incidents of human-wildlife conflict are reported every year. A human-wildlife competition for limited resources has manifested itself in conflicts such as crop-raiding, livestock predation, property damage, human death and injury, and the retaliatory killing of animals. This is a tragic reminder of the challenges in achieving peaceful coexistence in places where human settlements and animal territories overlap.
As perhaps one of the most challenging issues for wildlife conservation worldwide, the question of how to resolve this conflict is as acute as ever. And the DNPWC needs to treat it as such. Its current strategies focus on compensation packages, poorly maintained electric fences to contain animals within certain areas, instructions to locals on proper storage of food items that attract elephants and better tools for scaring off the animals. These are short-term solutions at best.
Better strategies are needed to promote co-existence of wild animals and people. Perhaps by creating non-overlapping resources, the socio-economic issues of local populations would not run in with the ecology of the wildlife involved, thereby mitigating conflict. The locals could be integrated into wildlife protection efforts as a critical human resource. Take, for example, Namibia, where local community groups set aside a portion of their common land for wildlife; they are successfully managing their own wildlife through conservancy systems. Numerous solutions to alleviate human-wildlife conflict and save lives—both human and animal—could be found if there was proper research. But if the government and other concerned authorities continue to take the easy way out, the problem will remain as it is, if not become worse in the days ahead.