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On human-wildlife conflict


With elephant corridors disrupted, the pachyderms often have to pass through villages and towns to reach forest patches.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Is not the widely used term “Human-Animal Conflict” an unjust expression? The phrase immediately places the animal kingdom in a hostile terrain, fostering even more suspicion and hatred towards the wildlife. The expression also misleads and insinuates that wildlife shares equal responsibility for the conflicts with humans.

Following a series of unfortunate incidents in Wayanad that resulted in the loss of precious human lives, the local media on overdrive sensationalized news reports with phrases such as “Killer Elephant” and “Rogue Animal”. Malayalam news channels repeatedly used expressions like “Kolayali Ana,” meaning “murderer elephant,” portraying the elephant as if it executed a planned murder. Strong words like “Anappaka” and “Anakkali,” meaning “elephant vengeance” or “elephant rage,” only served to exacerbate the unenviable situation that then prevailed in the hilly district. We all know that words and expressions matter, and such terms can shape and influence our thoughts and attitudes toward the wild.

The elephant is certainly one of the most amiable wild animals when it comes to human presence. The vegetarian giant does not attack humans for food (mercifully never labelled a “Man-eater”) and often shrugs off most provocations. It’s only when threatened or under extreme stress an elephant reacts.

For all our celebrations and festivals, we need elephants at the forefront. Even the presence of a lone elephant could bring splendidness to the event. One never gets bored of watching an elephant, and one never gets tired of writing about elephants. The simultaneous multiple motions of an elephant- its fan-like ears flapping in rhythm, the cascading twists of its trunk, that constant swaying of its enormous figure from side to side, and the roll and shake of its head- bring alive a subtle piece of choreography, all performed in complete silence. A happy elephant beckons a beholder like a soothing forest wind that weaves waves through tree tops. As it turns out, “can’t live with you, can’t live without you” could be the phrase that best expresses the relationship between us Keralites and elephants today.

As someone who witnessed the transition of life in Wayanad over the last forty years, from a land of human-animal confluence once to the epicentre of so-named “human-animal conflicts’ today, I have always associated the letter “W” in Wayanad with the Wild. In the past, before Wayanad became a busy, noisy sprawling hill station, the tribal communities and the farmers showed a great sense of accommodation towards the wildlife. There was always a give-and-take between humans and the wild, with each respecting the other’s space. Whenever a wild animal appeared in a forest fringe village, no one crowded around, heckled or shouted to chase the animal away. They waited patiently, keeping a safe distance until the animal retreated deep into the forest. The villagers lived a minimal life and never disturbed or trespassed on elephant corridors. Thatched-roof shops and stores in wayside towns traded in goods like cardamom, coffee, and pepper, while small eateries catered to travellers traversing interstate roads. Urbanism was unknown to the hills. It’s not surprising, that as the world becomes increasingly human-centric, we tend to brand other species as adversaries at the slightest hindrance to our fancy modern ways of life.

harichitrakootam@yahoo.com



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