Saving lives and incomes of the rural poor
Governments could save human lives and millions of dollars in crop and
income losses for the rural poor through better consideration of the
needs of wildlife, according to a new WWF study of conflict between
humans and wild elephants in Africa and Asia.
Common Ground found the most serious conflict and harm to both human communities and elephants resulted from unplanned and unregulated development. In Namibia, elephant related conflict costs communal farmers around $US 1 million a year, while in some Nepalese communities it can be up to around a quarter of the household incomes of poor farming families.
The most significant consequence of the conflict was loss of human life, but other considerable, costs of human wildlife conflict go largely uncounted — for instance, in Nepal, men in elephant-ravaged villages faced difficulties in marrying as women as scared to move to villages where elephants are a problem. In some areas, retaliatory killing of elephants was a major threat to already vulnerable elephant populations.
“Conflict with elephants causes death and suffering for many marginal poor communities living close to wildlife areas, and is often followed by the retaliatory killing of wild elephants,”¯ said Dr Susan Lieberman, WWF International’s Species Programme Director. “But we can go from lose-lose to win-win for both humans and wildlife, with the clearest gains coming from the implementation of effective land-use planning aimed at reducing the potential for conflict.”¯
In Nepal, the study compared communities with high levels of wild elephant damage with an area where the conflict costs were at half those levels, and found that the less damaged area had more forest cover in edge areas and less fragmented forests overall.
“The level of habitat fragmentation was actually more influential in determining the amount of crop loss than the amount of forest coverage itself”¯ the report says, although there are many other factors which play a part.
In Namibia levels of crop damage were closely related to the distance of farms from wildlife areas, with farms immediately adjacent to unfenced wildlife habitat being “a drain on the national economy”¯. Human wildlife conflict in just one region of Namibia was estimated as causing annual losses of US$700,000 to the national economy
The report also found that an effective way to manage HWC was to give rights over wildlife to local communities, thus enabling local communities to benefit from neighbouring wildlife. Economic analysis in Namibia demonstrated that these communities were able to generate more income from wildlife than they suffered from wildlife losses. In Nepal, communities which received benefits from wildlife and wildlife habitat showed a much greater tolerance towards elephants than communities receiving no benefits.
Other important measures included innovative financial mechanisms, and
field based techniques such as planting crops that are a deterrent, or
less attractive to elephants.
Common Ground reveals how drivers from the west are also part of the problem. In Namibia, international agreements between Europe and Africa artificially enhance the economic viability of the livestock sector compared to other land-uses and add to wildlife conflict pressures.
“Local communities can both benefit economically and co-exist peacefully with wildlife”¯, said Dr Lieberman. “What we demonstrate here is that proper planning to meet the needs of wildlife and the needs of communities is the key to reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses from human wildlife conflict.”¯