Designing a comprehensive human-wildlife conflict management strategy in select districts/landscapes of Sikkim (funded by United Nations Development Programme -UNDP)

The Project

In 2018, UNDP in collaboration with MoEFCC assigned ATREE the task of exploring the current status and dynamics of Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) in Sikkim. This sub-project was part of the SECURE Himalaya program which addresses Snow Leopard habitats in three Indian Himalayan states and one Union Territory. The state is potentially significant to the species since it forms a connecting bridge between large areas of high-altitude, protected habitat in eastern Nepal and western Bhutan (MoFSC 2017). In

Why is HWC research important?

The issue of human-wildlife conflict (HWC) is critical because the rural economy is changing rapidly in the Himalaya. Many farm families are abandoning agriculture partly or entirely and seeking alternative work, and HWC is most often mentioned as the principal reason for these decisions. The hilly regions do not have the headline-grabbing HWC problems seen in other parts of West Bengal and the "Plain states", where human injuries and fatalities are caused by elephants or tigers. Nevertheless, in the Sikkim-Himalaya, the chronic loss of crops and livestock – sometimes reaching as much as 80% of a family’s harvest value – can make it nearly impossible for a family to maintain a dignified livelihood. If we want to maintain healthy rural livelihoods into the future, it will be necessary to address this problem. Because it reduces productivity, HWC may also be a significant threat to Sikkim state’s transition toward “organic state” status. The Sikkim Human Development Report of 2014 concluded that “Human-wildlife conflict (HWC) is on the rise in Sikkim” but that “Sikkim lacks a comprehensive policy on managing HWC.”

Trends in HWC?

Farmers in rural Sikkim almost unanimously report that HWC has increased over the last 10 years. This is also what people are saying in other parts of the country, and indeed of the world. Such a trend is difficult to verify objectively since there are no historical data from most places. We know that it has always been a challenge for rural people living close to forests to keep their crops and livestock safe from wild animals. However, there are reasons to believe that such conflicts are in fact becoming more frequent, and we can make some educated guesses about what could be driving such increases:

1) As the rural population has grown, villages have spread out and forest cover has been reduced by many types of development such as roads, mines and quarries, and hydropower projects. This may have forced some wildlife populations into closer contact with humans and their activities.

2) After the declaration of many national parks, reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries during the 1980s and 1990s, hunting ceased in most areas. Livestock grazing, fuelwood gathering, and other human activities within the reserves also ceased, so that wildlife populations within the parks may have been able to increase a lot. In places where there has been research, this does seem to be the case, but in many parts of the Eastern Himalaya there has been little research.

3) Since the advent of plastics and processed foods, village garbage tip areas have likely increased in number and in extent. Some wildlife species, such as bears and wild pigs, are attracted to such areas on the margins of villages and may thus become habituated to foraging close to people’s habitations.

4) Herbivore species such as wild boar, barking deer, and porcupine are vulnerable to harsh winters, which in the past have kept populations numbers in check. In places where winters have become milder due to climate change, population growth rates may have increased.

5) Some herbivore species such as wild boar and barking deer reproduce rapidly in the absence of large predators. While populations of tiger and leopard were historically present in many forestlands of Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya, tiger have been absent for some decades at the higher elevations, and leopards have been relatively few. In just the last couple of years, tiger have been recorded in Sikkim state once again, probably traveling from Bhutan side. There have been a few reports of large livestock being killed, with pugmarks visible around the carcass (see Figs. 3-6). Although this doesn’t appear to be a common or widespread problem yet, it may become more frequent in the future.

Aims of the project

First, understanding perceptions of stakeholders across horizontal and vertical scales is essential in developing efficient policy design and implementation. Second, there is still a dearth of primary field data on the socio-cultural and economic contexts of conservation that should inform HWC policies. Finally, there are very few assessments of monetary compensation schemes in the country.

Our project will use a multidisciplinary approach to understand perceptions across different stakeholder groups, generate primary field data and assess various mitigation approaches to develop an inclusive and comprehensive conflict management system for the fringe areas of Kangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve. The broad objectives of the study are:

i. Assess the nature and extent of human-wildlife conflict in the Sikkim.

ii. Explore possible mitigation approaches.

iii. Design a comprehensive and integrative conflict management strategy

Community perceptions of the relative amounts of damage caused in each month by the 2-3 most important HWC species. Groups were asked to rank 1) species in terms of the amount of damage caused, and 2) calendar months in terms of the average proportion of damage per year. People report strong seasonal variation in severity of damage. Note bears attack livestock during the winter months, not during the maize season.

Perception of locals on species causing maximum damage to crops and livestock in fringe villages of Kangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim Himalaya

Perception of people on species causing maximum damage to crops and livestock in Lachen and Lachung Valleys.

THE FIELD TEAM

Tenzing Ingty

Rewash Rai

Andrew Chettri

Buddha Limboo

Himalayan black bear enjoying the forage bonanza at a village waste dump

Yak calf that survived an attack by a pack of feral dogs. Pastoralists estimated that around 40% of yak calves are lost to feral dogs every year.

Lachungpa farmer with ox reportedly killed by a tiger

Pug mark beside the dead ox

Yak attacked in Lachen valley

Abrasions along the jugular

Pug marks found next to the yak