View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction


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There has been an increase in severity of human-wildlife conflicts in India in the last few decades with tiger Panthera tigris , Common leopard Panthera pardus and Asian elephant Elephas maximus being the three most problematic species reported to cause extensive damage to human lives, livestock and property. While an extensive protected area PA network and land allotted for agricultural production were cited as two major reasons [ 1 ], the real cause of escalation of conflicts in the recent years has been attributed to habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation due to increasing anthropogenic pressures, particularly development, reducing tolerance levels to wildlife, and local abundance of problem species [ 2 ].


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When there are incidents of large cats such as tiger and leopard killing and injuring humans, it evokes a serious public backlash and a setback for conservation efforts. Though studies have been periodically conducted within PAs on certain aspects of ecology of such large mammals in India, extensive research on such aspects in regions where they share space with humans are limited [ 3 — 5 ].

A misConception of Conflict? – World Mediation Organization

Knowledge gained through such studies in human-dominated landscapes help solve complex conservation problems such as human-wildlife conflicts [ 6 — 12 ], where apart from the dynamics of such events, a thorough understanding of the social aspects of conflicts are essential for implementing further mitigation measures [ 13 — 19 ]. In India, where the interface between forests and rural inhabitations is a continuum, the leopard has adapted to live in the fringes of human habitations.

Due to the behavioural plasticity, wide choice of prey and adaptability to survive on a wide range of human altered habitats, the smaller, agile and adaptable leopard is most often implicated in attacks on people [ 20 ]. Today—human-leopard conflicts are reported across India with major hotspots being Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra [ 21 ]. Recent studies on leopard attacks on humans and livestock have been conducted [ 22 — 24 ] in Uttarakhand and [ 25 , 26 ] in North Bengal but none have compared spatio-temporal patterns and major drivers of such incidents across these sites.

Gazetteers and hunting records maintained by the British officers in colonial times confirm visitation by leopard frequently near human settlements to predate on livestock and domestic animals in spite of vast wilderness areas with abundant wild prey. In the western part of this region, Uttarakhand state Pauri Garhwal has been historically recognised for the magnitude of human-leopard conflict, when hundreds of people were killed by leopard even in the 20 th century and a dozen leopards killed as man-eaters [ 27 ]. Since the last decade, there has been large scale human out-migration from the mountainous region to the plains due to lack of sustained livelihood resources.

Pauri Garhwal reported an annual growth rate of In the eastern Himalayan foothills dooars region of West Bengal there has been reports of more than attacks on humans by leopard between — [ 26 ]. The dooars region underwent rapid changes since colonial times when British planters cleared large tracts of forests for commercial tea plantations and settled tribal people from Central Indian highlands to work as daily labourers in these gardens [ 29 ]. Keeping in perspective the recurrent loss of human lives and frequent injuries by leopard attacks our objective was to assess spatial and temporal patterns of attacks and perception of local communities in two such landscapes across the Indian Himalayan Region IHR.

We evaluated the 1 present and past trends in intensity of conflict 2 documented spatial distribution of human-killing and injury related incidents and identified ecological variables, potential hotspots of conflict, 3 identified human activities that make people vulnerable to attack, 4 socio-economic condition of local people, and 5 perception of local people towards leopard. For the present study, we did not investigate drivers of livestock depredation by leopard. We used the results to develop recommendations for management interventions in mitigating human-leopard conflict in the IHR.

These two sites in the IHR differ in certain standard parameters such as i human population, ii variation in altitude, iii forest cover, iv precipitation, v major land use patterns, and vi livestock population.

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This district is part of the lesser and middle Himalaya with an altitudinal range between — m. Average rainfall in the district is cm. The entire district is rugged and mountainous. The human population density is low, persons per km 2 Census , data accessed on June with the local inhabitants of Pauri district predominantly agrarian with other major occupations being horticulture, livestock farming and cottage industries [ 23 ].

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The livestock density of this region is 58 per km 2 Livestock Census, Major mammalian fauna of Pauri region are Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus , common leopard Panthera pardus fusca , barking deer Muntiacus muntjak , goral Nemorhaedus goral , sambar Cervus unicolor , wild pig Sus scrofa , rhesus macaque Macaca mulata and common langur Presbytis entellus.

The dooars fall within Biogeographic zone 2 and Biotic provinces 2C and 7B [ 30 ]. Subsequently after Independence and creation of Bangladesh, Government of India settled large number of refugees within this region [ 33 ]. The forest areas were cleared to make way for human settlements and thus today the landscape is a matrix of tea gardens, villages, urban settlements interspersed with small PAs [ 29 ].

The region receives an average annual rainfall of mm with an average altitude of m. The major mammalian fauna of this region are the endangered one-horned rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis , Asian elephant, gaur Bos gaurus , sambar Rusa unicolor , chital Axis axis , rhesus macaque Macaca mullata and a host of diverse fauna and flora with leopard being the apex predator and only large carnivore present [ 25 ].

In order to understand the nature and extent of human-leopard conflicts we compiled Forest Department wildlife damage compensation records, published literature, newspaper reports available regarding the number of human death and injuries, leopard deaths in Pauri Garhwal and North Bengal for the past 16 years — Subsequently we mapped the gps locations in Arc GIS We also inquired about the details of such incidents from family members of leopard victims, companions, local people and forest personnel who were present or had visited these sites after the attacks happened.

We also noted other details such as age and occupation of victim, time and month of attack, activity during attack, vegetation type and altitude of conflict site as well as whether the attack resulted in death or injury. We conducted perception based surveys of local communities to understand social drivers of conflicts within both Pauri and North Bengal. The initial questions were related to simple demographic information to ease respondents into the interview session. Questions were repeated several times if the respondents had problem in comprehending and a response was noted down only when there was no ambiguity.

A family was treated as the basic unit for the purpose of this study, with only one respondent from a family being interviewed.

A misConception of Conflict?

The structured questionnaire used was divided into three main sections viz. Responses from the questionnaire survey were analyzed to evaluate basic statistics regarding socio-economic well-being, primary source of livelihood and perception of people towards leopard S1 Appendix.

The attack data from the compiled records were analyzed to arrive at spatial-temporal pattern of such attacks. Due to logistic constraints, we collected conflict data only from central and northern eastern parts of Pauri district, and central and eastern parts of North Bengal. The two study sites were stratified into 2 km 2 grids using Arc GIS A total of 14 predictor variables independent variables were selected based on their ecological importance Table 1.

Length of roads and drainage within each grid were extracted using the Roads and Drainage layers obtained from Digital Chart of the World [ 38 ]. Altitude of each grid centroid was generated from the 90 m spatial resolution digital elevation maps [ 39 ]. Human footprint data was generated using the human census data Census Data Night light data for the two sites were derived using m spatial resolution night-time visible lights data of India [ 41 ]. After extraction, we standardized all these data using z transformations.

The rare events regression procedure estimates the model as standard logistic regression with the output estimates corrected for the bias that occurs when the sample is small or the observed events rare. We selected the final model based on the lowest AIC value [ 43 ].

The logit link in a logistic regression is used to model the log-odds of an event occurring. Here we used a simple logistic regression with a dichotomous confounder Z and a dichotomous exposure E [ 44 ]. Based on the forest department records, in Pauri Garhwal, a total of attacks on humans were registered between and The mean number of humans killed by leopard per year in Pauri Garhwal during this period was estimated to be 3.

Apart from the deaths, an average of 11 persons were injured by leopard attacks during the same period. In North Bengal, a total of attacks on humans were registered between —, between — and between — The average number of injuries between — were estimated to be 70 SE 9. A total of leopards were killed in Pauri Garhwal either in retaliation by local communities or declared as man-eaters and shot with a range of 2—16 per year between — Leopard killed in retaliation or shot dead by forest officials in North Bengal during this period was negligible and were thus not reported.

Fifty seven percent of the attacks on humans in Pauri Garhwal occurred within an altitudinal range of — m whereas in North Bengal all attacks were recorded between — m S1 Fig. During field visits and informal interactions, family members, friends responded that the victims were either walking back from school, market, collecting firewood or working alone in agriculture lands. Fifty-two percent of these victims were males and rest females. Seventy-eight percent of the victims who sustained injuries were tea estate workers by profession. Fifty-eight percent of these victims were males and rest females.

The attacks happened when workers were busy plucking tea leaves, spraying insecticides or watering the tea plants. Out of the 14 predictor variables, precipitation, temperature and altitude were ecologically significant variables in Pauri Garhwal whereas in North Bengal open forests, scrublands significantly affected leopard attacks on humans.


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The best model was selected based on the lowest AIC values Tables 2 and 3. Human-leopard conflict probability was inversely proportional to altitude with such incidents declining with increasing elevation in North Bengal. Some of the site-specific characteristics are provided as Table 6. Predictive maps showed central and northern regions of Pauri Garhwal as conflict risk hot spots Fig 3 whereas for North Bengal it was the central and south western zones adjacent to PAs Fig 4.

The sites around PAs in North Bengal showed higher probabilities of conflicts and could be due to the presence of secondary forests and tea estates. A comparison of major variables between the two Himalayan sites are provided as Table 6. In Pauri Garhwal majority of the respondents were middle aged 48 years SE 1.

Some of the other parameters recorded during the interviews are provided as pie charts S2 Fig. Average livestock possessed per household was 13 SE 8. Average landholding in Pauri Garhwal was SE Based on the questionnaire surveys, average annual livestock depredation per household by leopard was estimated to be 3 in Pauri and 1 in North Bengal. To reduce livestock depredation respondents opined to use predator proof enclosures and lights around households in Pauri whereas in North Bengal people vouched for relocating problem animals, introducing native wild prey in forests and installing predator proof enclosures.

The present study explores the nature of human-leopard conflicts and perception of local communities across the western and eastern Indian Himalayan region.

The predictive map highlights potential human-leopard conflict zones and helps formulate mitigation measures for these sites. The number of injuries to leopard attacks were much higher in North Bengal compared to Pauri Garhwal, whereas deaths to such attacks were higher in Pauri. The total number of deaths and injuries to leopard attacks in Pauri district have reduced to between and compared to reported between — [ 23 ].

In North Bengal the primary reason of rise in leopard attacks could be the large scale expansion of tea estates and subsequent increase in human activities within the gardens [ 26 ].

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It is a matter of scientific curiosity as to why conflicts suddenly reduced in Pauri Garhwal but there could be several reasons contributing to this significant decline. One of them could be the large-scale killing of leopard especially females between — [ 23 ] by forest officials and retaliatory killing by local communities. Though remedial harvesting hypothesis suggests that removal of large cats at small scale from certain sites does not necessarily suppress their densities or reduce the population and other individuals occupy the vacant territories left by the residents [ 45 ] but in Pauri female leopards being removed in majority [ 23 ], the annual growth rate of the population might have been affected.

Hunting of adult females have been reported to have important implications for the long term viability of leopard populations compared to adult males [ 46 ] due to a male biased dispersal [ 47 ]. Though studies on brown bears and wolves in Europe have documented increased reproduction in populations with long persecution histories as compensation to loss in retaliatory killings [ 48 ] but it has not been reported in felids. Moreover, carnivore populations subjected to lethal control could have other ramifications such as i relatively young age structure ii lack of hunting skills in sub-adults, cubs due to removal of adult females and thus iii increased dependence on easy prey i.

It will be interesting to investigate population dynamics and litter size of the leopard population in Pauri Garhwal. The other primary reason of decline in conflicts could be the large scale out-migration of people from the hills [ 28 ] abandoning agriculture lands and households. Studies conducted in Maharashtra have cited human intervention of capture and release of leopards to far-off sites disrupting their socio-biology as principal reason of increased attacks on people. The study also concluded that abundance of leopard and humans were not the primary drivers of conflicts [ 20 ].

View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction
View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction
View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction
View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction
View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction
View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction
View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction
View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction
View From the Middle of the Road : A Mediator’s Perspective on Life, Conflict, and Human Interaction

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