Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay 


Human-animal conflict has started taking firm roots in our country. Due to increase in human population, and various commercial activities have resulted in the shrinking of habitat for the wild animals. Consequently, they are forced to cross the forest territory and thereby enter into the adjacent agricultural fields where they come in contact with cattle and the innocent human population. Resultantly, the human-animal conflict is taking place. This conflict is growing every year resulting in casualties from both sides. According to the statistics provided by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, more than 1,608 humans were killed because of this conflict involving tigers, leopards, bears and elephants between 2013 and 2017. India is also home to the largest population of tiger, Asian elephants, leopard and sloth bear, and these animals cannot be confined to demarcated territories. Scores of elephants are killed every year in India as their paths cross those of humans. Similar is the fate of tigers, leopards and other wild animals

The catalytic factors of this crisis are the explosion of human population, shrinking forest cover, urbanisation, poaching, mining, drawing up of electric supply lines, increasing road density, destruction of natural corridors, and agricultural expansion. Broadly, the increasing human population and growing urbanisation are the main causes of the human-animal conflict. To begin with, varied projects of infrastructure, mining, road-widening, and rail-related projects are being sanctioned and implemented by the government authorities. As per the report of an advocacy group, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) of 2017, an ever- growing network of roads and railways is killing more animals than ever before. Besides the other animals, leopards, elephants, and tigers, having the highest level of protection under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, are the worst affected with man-made infrastructure cutting them off from their source of food and creating hurdles on their natural migration paths. This has resulted in an increased rate of death on both sides. This enhanced rate of habitat encroachment through such transport projects has culminated in a decreased prey base, territory and water sources for wild animals like leopards and elephants that are forced to come out closer to human habitation. Similarly, animals are falling prey to electric lines also. The list identifies flamingos as the second largest casualty of animal electrocution at 181, followed by leopards and peacocks at 64 deaths each over six years. There are three main types of electrocution deaths. The first is accidental electrocution, taking place in the absence of proper maintenance of electric lines passing through protected forest areas. The second, deliberate electrocution by poachers who lay wires to kill animals, and lastly, where animals trespass into farms close to forest areas that farmers protect with high-voltage electric fences.

The causes and instances of human-animal conflict in regard to wild animals (category wise) can be enumerated as such:

1. Elephants

Asiatic elephants are found in India and Nepal. Both the countries provide shelter to 60 percent of the total elephant population. In numbers, between 26,390 and 30,770 elephants are reportedly found in India, while Nepal has between 100 and 125 animals. At present, elephants are under constant threat due to change of their habitat for agriculture, urbanisation, and industrialization.

As per the estimates of the Union Government's Project Elephant, the human-elephant conflict results in the death of over 100 elephants every year.

According to the data provided in the Rajya Sabha by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, between 2014-15 and 2018-19, 2,361 humans were killed as a result of conflict with elephants, while 510 elephants were killed in incidents of electrocution, train accidents, poaching and poisoning during the same period. Electrocution is the primary cause, accounting for nearly two-thirds of deaths (333 out of 510) Increasing habitat loss and fragmentation of corridors used by animals for centuries are the two major causes of this conflict. According to Siddharth Das, Director General, Forests, the main driver is loss of habitat. Elephants move from 600 to 700 sq. km in a year and in some extreme cases, male elephants have been known to move up to 2,800 sq. km in a year. But only 5 percent of India's geographical area falls in the protected area category. Hence, the elephants don't have the required space, argues M Ananda Kumar, of the Nature Conservation Foundation who focuses on wildlife conflict in the Valaparai region of Tamil Nadu. Shrinking Forest ranges (from commercial exploitation) and feeding grounds for elephants are causing serious concerns as they look for soft landscapes adjacent to forests such as coffee, tea and cardamom estates in the South, and sugarcane and other crops in the North India. Consequently, the elephants keep coming back to villages to raid farms or destroy barns. According to a study conducted by Sanjeeta Sharma Pokharel, a post- doctoral researcher at Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru, and scientists at department of Molecular Reproduction and Development Genetics, IISC, this trait of farm raiding of the elephants could be because of crops like paddy, corn, banana and jackfruit are superfoods for elephants. Consuming these enhances their state of mind and well-being. This study shows another dimension of farm raiding by the elephants. But there is no denying the fact that thousands of small-scale farmers live in perpetual fear in regard to crop lands as a result of constant elephant raids in and around the 101 elephant corridors.

Farmers resort to all kinds of actions to drive away crop-raiding elephants. Beating drums, bursting crackers, erecting electric fences, and using spikes and fireballs are some of the commonly used means to deal with these elephants. However, things took an ugly turn when the villagers adopted so-called "food bombs" resulting in the brutal killing of a pregnant elephant in Palakkad district in Kerala on May 2, 2020. Here, the pineapples allegedly stuffed with explosives were used as a boobytrap to lure animals. There is little doubt that the average farmer is entirely dependent on his farming activities and cash crops are most essential for his earnings. That is why he tries every trick in his armour to save the crops from the crop-raiding elephants. At present, the most commonly used methods to check the infiltration of elephants, at the level of forest officials, in the fields are erecting watch towers and digging elephant-proof trenches. Besides that, indigenous methods like trip alarms, chilli tobacco ropes (the smoke burns the animal's eyes without causing any permanent harm), fences made from used CDs (the shiny surface works as a torch and acts as a psychological barrier), taped sounds of tigers and distressed elephants, are in vogue in different parts of the country. The burning of elephant's dung or sprinkle tiger urine to keep pachyderms away from the farmers' crops are also in practice. Not only this but also, the use of modern technology is also visible in this direction. For example, Mobile-based warning systems, thermal-detectors, and other sustainable solutions are being used in the forest areas. In West Bengal, forest officials are using thermal sensors and GPS collars to provide early warnings indicating the elephants' movement. In Assam, the hanging fences have been installed in place of conventional fences by the Wildlife Trust of India to keep elephants out of human habitat. In Karnataka, villagers are now operating LED boards that light up to alert people to indicate the presence of elephants within a kilometre.

However, the government agencies have not come up with any scientifically viable solution to this nagging problem so far.

2. Big Cats

According to the Tiger Census of 2019, there are nearly 3000 tigers in India. This shows an increase from around 1,400 in 2006. Tiger population had been wiped out of Sariska Tiger Reserve. However, a survey by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change whose report was released in the last week of July 2019, states that nearly a third of the country's 50 tiger reserves are approaching their peak carrying capacity. This implies that nearly a third of the country's tigers currently live outside protected areas (PA). As a result, they come into proximity with human settlements resulting in the increasing human-animal conflicts in the last five years. Mahesh Sharma, the then Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, stated in the Lok Sabha that more than 100 people were killed by tigers between 2015 and 2018. Generally, male and female tigers require a range of 70-150 square km and 20-60 sq km respectively. These animals are highly territorial in nature, and don't like to share their spaces with siblings and cubs. Thus, the adolescent, when it is about a year-and-a-half old, either moves out of the forest area or forces an aging tiger out of the reserve. In new spaces, the tigers face shortage of prey. As per the experts, one tiger requires a prey base of 500 animals to survive. Facing the absence of the required number of preys, these animals, though reticent towards humans, begin to stalk farms and villages for livestock. Tigers are not attributed to a natural propensity to attack humans, even then the reports of attacking and killing humans are not uncommon. When a small farmer loses a big chunk of his crop, and further the animals kill his near and dear ones, his tolerance level ebbs to the lowest level, and he retaliates with a vengeance. The human-animal conflict thus, comes as a natural consequence.

Tiger population is growing in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand. Brahmapuri forest division of Chandrapur district, an emerging hotspot for human-wildlife conflict in Maharashtra, is an appropriate case study. Here, the growth of tiger numbers has shown a remarkably upward trend, from about 15-16 in 2013 to 41 in 2019. Contiguous with the 625-sq-km Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), Brahmapuri is currently the most precious tiger-bearing non-protected area in the country. Chandrapur district as a whole now has more than 100 tigers, arguably the highest in numbers, for a district in the country. Outside TATR, the tigers are spread mostly in the Brahmapuri area. However, Brahmapuri’s 41 tigers have to live with over 610 villages in contrast to only 2 yet-to-be-rehabilitated villages connected to TATR's 44 tigers. Further, high cattle density and fragmentation of forests are the other significant reasons. According to Bilal Habib, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India, "Brahmapuri has one the highest numbers of roads for a forest teeming with tigers. In recent years, it has been vivisected by a network of huge-sized canals of the Gosikhurd irrigation project. And then there are agricultural fields all around. So, tiger dispersal or movement is bound to trigger conflict with humans''. He further says that "Unlike males, females don't migrate long distances through fragmented forests. When they breed, the male cubs again can go long distances after separation but not the females. That's why we have females involved in most cases of conflict.” A potent cause of human-wildlife conflict is the people's interface with wildlife. In Brahmapuri also, people go to forest to collect minor forest produce and firewood. The conflict generally intensifies in the months of April-May when people enter the forest to collect mahua flowers and tendu leaves. The mahua flowers are rich in nutrients and edible and are also used to prepare liquor. The tendu leaves are used to make beedis. The case of Brahmapuri is self-explanatory and vividly showcases the causes of human-animal conflict. Leopards are in the middle of the human-animal conflict in the backdrop of expansion of human habitations into the patches of scrub and woods that border them, which for long had served as natural habitats for the big cats. In this context, the case of Haryana is noteworthy. In 2017, the Wildlife Institute of India recorded 31 leopards across five districts in Haryana, including Gurugram. This is a four-fold increase since 2012, when a similar survey estimated the presence of just eight leopards in the same area, measuring a little over 120 square kilometres. This significant increase in their population has resulted in a huge conflict of space for the leopards which are apex predators and require room to move around, says Pia Sethi, of the Centre for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at The Energy Research Institute (TERI) According to the 2016 census, there were 12,000 to 16,000 leopards across the country. India recorded the highest number of leopard mortality in 2018 when a total 460 leopard deaths were recorded, a 40 percent increase over the last five years, according to the Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Out of these, 155 deaths occurred due to seizure and poaching, 74 killed in road or train accidents, 29 killed by villagers, 8 shot by forest department and rest died because of other reasons or natural death. No doubt, the situation is alarming and needs ameliorative measures at the government level.

Traditionally Indians possess a more humane approach towards animals than many countries in the world. People have shared space with wildlife from the ancient times. To cite an example, the Idu Mishmi community in Arunachal Pradesh's Dibang Valley considers tigers to be "big brothers" and hold that killing the big cat amounts to "homicide". According to their belief, this is a "unique conservation strategy", which helps the big cat population to thrive in the area.

3. Nilgais (Blue bull) and Other Vermin

Nilgai remains one of the most complained against of animal species especially in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Their presence in the fields out of forest areas in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, in particular is a major cause of concern for the farmers. They appear in herds and damage the crops extensively. In 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change declared Nilgai vermin on account of the damage inflicted by them on life and property. The Ministry took this decision on a request by Bihar government for granting permission to exterminate Nilgai and wild pig. This notification of 1st December 2015, by the Ministry granted permission to cull or kill the Nilgai and wild pig for a year under Section 62 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act,1972. This permission was accorded to three states of Uttarakhand, Bihar, and Himachal Pradesh for scientific management. The Ministry had also issued orders to kill elephants in West Bengal, monkeys in Himachal Pradesh, peacocks in Goa and wild boars in Maharashtra at different times. Himachal Pradesh killed hundreds of rhesus macaques in 2007 and sterilized over 96,000 macaques since 2007. Permission for culling of vermin is a temporary solution. Moreover, it raises concerns among the wildlife experts and animal welfare activists, every time such permission is granted. So, we need a scientific strategy to deal with the problem.

The human-animal conflict is not just confined to the lands adjacent to forest areas or to the rural areas only. A significant departure is the menace of Nilgais which is clearly visible in the urban areas also. The Yamuna expressway from Greater Noida to Agra is dotted with numerous boards warning motorists that they are entering a "nilgai-prone area". This animal has caused many road accidents, some fatal. While this assertion is beyond doubt that there is an urgent need to protect our precious wildlife, at the same time the concerns of the farmers can't be wished away. A Committee headed by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, a renowned agricultural scientist and visionary has opined in October 2006 that Wildlife laws must be relaxed as farmers are threatened by the increasing population of monkeys, wild boars and nilgais, which are "playing havoc with the agricultural and horticultural crops". The panel suggested monkeys should be declared "vermin" under the Wildlife Protection Act so that they could be culled. Presently, to save their crops, farmers often use brutal methods like fireworks, poison and electrocuted fences.


Since, this human-animal conflict is steadily rising, it is necessary to strike the right balance between development needs and preservation of the natural world. There are ways to manage the crisis better. In this context, at the ground level some steps can be taken to ease the situation. For example, elevated roads can be constructed near wildlife corridors. Similarly, culverts can be developed to allow animals to cross busy railway lines and roads. Barriers can be erected along traffic corridors. Further, animal early warning systems can be deployed which can provide timely public information on presence and movements of species such as elephants to local people to facilitate precautionary measures. There is ample scope of housing improvements and provision of amenities, indoor toilets, and rural public bus services that may help reduce accidental human deaths. Moreover, improving livestock corrals can reduce livestock losses and carnivore incursion into villages. Better garbage disposal and avoiding deliberate or accidental feeding of animals reduces risks associated with wild animals like monkeys. However, on the macro-level, some more efforts are needed which include policy interventions. First, the monitoring and evaluation of human-wildlife conflicts and compilation of data on conflict situations and their causes and solutions, is most essential. Secondly, it is imperative on the part of government authorities to draw up research, planning and a long-term policy/management framework. Thirdly, it requires rethinking land use planning with enough space for humans and animals, buffer zones and wildlife corridors. Fourthly, strengthening of community-based natural resource management. Fifthly, inclusion of communities in forest-based employment such as ecotourism. Sixthly, compensation for loss of lives, crops and livestock and its distribution should be ensured without corruption. Lastly, incentivising States that manage their natural heritage better than others. Besides that, the States must also have rescue units and animal crisis centres, adequate forest professionals, veterinarians, and equipment. Moreover, the use of modern technology in mitigating the menace is always welcome. The necessary amendments in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 should be carried out in right earnest. By adopting a holistic approach, we can find a solution to this vicious trend of human-animal conflict. 

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  • Jayashree Nanda and Prayag Desai, Hindustan Times, Nov 6, 2018.
  • Climate change will send elephants to mountains, Down To Earth, 1-15 May 2019, p.14.
  • Tiasa Adhya, Conflict of diet, Down To Earth, 1-15 February 2019.
  • 2,361 humans, 510 elephants killed in conflict in five years, The Indian Express, Feb 2, 2020
  • Jayashree Nandi and Prayag Desai, Conflict on rise as animal space shrinks, Hindustan Times, Nov 6,2018.
  • Tiasa Adhya, Conflict of diet, Down To Earth, 1-15 Feb 2019, p.44.
  • Climate change will send elephants to mountains, Down To Earth, 1-15 May 2019, p.14.
  • Himanshi Dhawan, From bees and chilli to tiger tapes, the tricks they try to kep elephants away, Sunday Times of India, Jun 7,2020.
  • Editorial, The Indian Express, Jul 30,2020.
  • Ibid.
  • Vivek Deshpande, Making of a conflict zone: humans vs tigers in a Maharashtra forest, The Indian Express, May 23,2019.
  • Ibid.
  • Jayashree Nandi and Prayag Desai, Conflict on rise as animal space shrinks, Hindustan Times, Nov 6,2018.
  • Badri Chatterjee, Leopard deaths at five year high, over a third poached, Hindustan Times, Dec 17, 2018.
  • Anubhuti Vishnoi, Nilgai's Journey From Antelope to Vermin Throws up Enough Muck, The Economic Times, Jun 10, 2016.
  • T.R.Shankar Raman, The Hindu, Jun 17, 2016.
  • Himangshu Watts, Wildly Off on Wildlife, The Economic Times, Jun 14, 2016.