Reconciling human safety with wildlife conservation goals have been the key focus of our work. We use a host of ecological as well as social science based methods to understand the complexities of relationship between people and large wildlife. Subsequently, we use this knowledge to enable local communities to share space safely with potentially dangerous wildlife such as leopards and elephants. The high number of human casualties due to shared space has been the prime hurdle to our conservation goals.
Encounters between People and Wildlife
We started our attempt to minimize human injuries due to encounters by understanding the circumstances behind these incidents. We have so far investigated more than 900 cases of human casualties due to leopard and elephant in our 2500 sq km study area that have occured between 2009 and 2019. Our detailed interviews of the victims and eye witnesses enabled us to devise specific strategies which may be adopted to minimize such incidents. We found out the leopard caused human injuries are almost entirely accidental in nature, which occur while people get too close to leopards unknowingly while working. The incidents involving elephants occur mostly when people are trying to chase away elephants from crop fields. Accidental encounters and hut damage also cause considerable injuries to people even leading to a lot of fatal cases. We also found that the leopard incidents peak during the non-tea season (December to April) when large sections are pruned and leopards are concentrated to fewer tea- covered sections thereby increasing the probability of encounters. The elephant incidents occur largely during harvest season of Paddy (August to November) and Maize (February to April).
Enabling Safer Shared Spaces
Based on our studies and extensive surveys spanning over 60 tea plantations and 40 villages, we have identified critical areas to focus our attention to minimize human injuries. We have started large scale contact programs in ~20 tea estates with the highest number of casualties. Our project members, in association with the West Bengal Forest Department, local NGOs such as SPOAR and NAS, local media, health department officials as well as tea estate management and village administration, have started awareness sessions on maximizing personal safety in areas where leopards and elephants are found among people. Our workshops employ a combination of interactive games, dos and donts as well as discussion on wildlife issues pertinent to local communities. Our associates are always proactive in stepping in and helping the locals cope with losses and risk by providing safety lights, installing lights in common areas and housing colonies as well as reaching the site whenever any untoward incident occurs to provide the first support.