Statistics released this week by India’s Environment Ministry count a total of 1444 people killed between April 2014 and May of this year.
“Conflict is already one of the biggest conservation challenges,” said Belinda Wright, founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, based in New Delhi. “In India it is particularly acute because of the high human population.”
That population of 1.3 billion is still growing, and as it does it is increasingly encroaching into the country’s traditional wild spaces and animal sanctuaries, where people compete with wildlife for food and other resources.
The growth of human settlements is often seen as economic development. But for some who are living on the edge of wildlife borders, this development can come at a high cost.
Of the 1052 lives claimed by elephants in the last three years, many had simply been in the way when the pachyderms wandered out of jungles in search of vegetation and raided farmers’ crops.
Wildlife experts say these conflicts have increased as elephants increasingly find their usual corridors blocked by highways, railway tracks and factories.
NVK Ashraf, a veterinarian at the Wildlife Trust of India, said the high death toll was likely because large numbers of people are dependent on forests for their livelihood.
“People going deep into the forests in search of food or forest produce run the risk of crossing the path of a tiger or a herd of elephants,” he said.
The human conflict with tigers has gradually increased since the 1970s, when India launched a nationwide tiger conservation programme that carved out sanctuaries in national parks and made it a crime to kill a big cat.
Though methods for counting tigers have changed, census evidence suggests the number has increased from about 1800 then to 2226 in 2014.
While the government did not provide any numbers for deaths caused by other big cats, conflicts with leopards have become so common that villagers regularly mount hunting parties when one ventures near their homes, threatening children and livestock.
India’s elephants and tigers are also some of the most hunted animals in the country, sought for their ivory tusks or bones that are sold on the black market for use in traditional Chinese medicine.
ANA and AP