Why They Suffer: The Human/Animal Conflict
establishment of human settlements large enough to be called civilisations, and
in many instances even before that, the idea of 'development' has had a
conspicuously narrow scope of definition. In most existing civilisations, the
definition of development still resists change on one front: the
anthropocentricity or human-centredness of its nature.
In most of the world
the situation is such that development, along with economic prosperity, has
become the centre of all political discourse. Nation-states focusing on this
form of development are revered, while those lagging behind are condemned
It seemingly escapes
the notice of development's proponents, however, that their idea of development
has failed to satisfy the needs of many humans, and of all those beings who are
The tangle of
skyscrapers, flyovers, highways and tunnels, in other words the tangible
manifestation of that long cherished dream of development, is built on the
destruction of many homes, of billions of living beings.
Disregard for animal
homes or habitats, indifference to the coming ravages of global warming, and
even denial at times, sets up a conflict that would not have existed in earlier
settings, at least not at the existing scale and spreading speed.
Although animals face
neglect, abuse and alienation equally in urban spaces and where forests
stretch, I focus here on the confrontations between humans and animals of the
wild, and this conflict's repercussions on the survival of species.
Union for Conservation of Nature states that human-wildlife conflict occurs "when animals pose a direct and recurring threat to the livelihood or safety of
people, leading to the persecution of that species."
Non-human animals do
sometimes directly threaten humans- but the threat we pose to other animals is
not only direct but also intentional. We threaten their survival on a much
larger scale. Many of our actions, not performed for survival, have led to the
extermination of a species as a whole. The earth has seen five mass extinction
events; many scientists argue that our current epoch, the Holocene or
Anthropocene, is witnessing a sixth due to our civilisation.
Here the love-hate
relationship between India and its national animal the tiger is a case worth
With humans pushing
the boundaries of tigers' natural homes ever inwards, our fellow animals tend
to come out of their shrinking dwellings, and consequently come into contact
with landscapes dominated by humans, mostly in search of prey- poultry and
other animals of economic importance, and in rare cases, humans.
Often these desperate
attempts to survive lead to our vilifying the 'beasts'. For instance in
November, 2018, a tigress named Avani, officially known as T1, was shot down in
Maharashtra by a shooter appointed by the state forest department. The state
government's minister of forests at the time, Sudhir Mungantiwar, said the
animal was killed as the last resort, after attempts to tranquilise her failed.
The case attracted the wrath of many activists and advocacy groups across the
killings of this sort are less common when compared to the number of animals
executed by small human communities living in close proximity to the wild. In
July 2019 a video surfaced online which showed a tigress being beaten to death
by a group of people. Over 40 men could be seen beating the tigress with sticks
and clubs. The killing took place near the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in Uttar
Pradesh, where the animal had apparently injured a couple of field workers. The
divisional forest officer, Naveen Khandelwal, told the press that the tigress
had attacked humans because she was alarmed when a child came too close to her
the animal for unknown reasons.
At the beginning of
the twentieth century some 100,000 tigers had a home in India. This number
plunged to 1,700 as per the 2011 India Tiger Census, their decimation
attributed largely to illegal hunting, commercial poaching and the rapid
destruction of natural habitats.
The tiger population
has suffered not just in numbers, but also in terms of genetic diversity. A
2013 study found that genetic variation in India's tiger population amounted to
93% less than it was 100 years before. The mass killing of tigers led to
increased in-breeding, making the population more fragile less immune to
external stresses as a whole.
plummeted to an all time low in 2008 when the number stood at 1,400 and finally
set the alarm bells ringing. The heads of government of 13 tiger-range
countries including India set the ambitious target of doubling the population
by the end of 2022. The target, as per the official data, was met much before
the deadline. In 2018 the government's All India Tiger Estimation Report said
the number of tigers in India stood at 2,967 representing a 33% increase over
the recorded population in 2014. However, many experts criticised the report
for using lax methods that led to double-counting. Conservationists also say
the improvement has been essentially quantitative rather than qualitative in
nature. The tiger population is increasing as a result of state conservation
measures, while the spaces required for these animals to live freely are
shrinking with every passing year.
The tiger which is a
highly territorial organism requires an area of about 60 to 100 square
kilometres (males) to find prey, mate and thrive. But the total area under all
fifty notified tiger reserves in India comes to just 71,027 square kilometres,
amounting to 24 square kilometres for every tiger. The fact that the tiger
population is unevenly spread, being largely restricted to small pockets in
Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, brings down the area available to each individual
A 2018 report by the
union environment ministry titled 'Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Tiger
Reserves' shows that about half the country's tiger reserves have been or will
likely be infringed by roads, highways, railway lines and other such linear
infrastructure. The ever growing footfall of pilgrims to shrines inside the
reserves amounts to yet more pressure exerted on the reserves and its
inhabitants. Poaching, illegal hunting, human settlements inside the reserves
or in their vicinity, a lack of trained professionals, the construction of
hydroelectric power plants, mining activities, unchecked pollution and
unbridled global warming are some of the other factors it identifies as a major
threat to the species' survival.
Since at least the
seals of the Harappan period the tiger has been recognised by human activity.
Tigers too see a home in India, and as official figures tell us, they have
responded positively to the measures we have put in place to help them live and
thrive. The need of the hour is the creation of adequately large, contiguous
areas of land protected from the most destructive human activities, lest the
animals should pose a threat to humans, and to their own very survival.
It is probably time
that we see animals and plants in close association with their basic survival
needs such as space, food and water, a way of seeing that may transform the
larger narrative of our industrial civilisation, so they can do more than exist
as totemic numbers or tokens of national pride. They should be allowed to live to
their fullest potential alongside us, without falling prey to our own peculiar
ideas of prosperity and development.