Mitigating conflict situations through solar initiatives, education, and awareness.
The Malai Mahadeshwara (MM Hills) and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuaries constitute a vast landscape that is home to rich biodiversity, and also supports many human settlements. These protected areas house healthy populations of mammals like elephants, leopards, sloth bear, wild pigs and deer, which also happen to be common conflict-prone species.
Communities and Conflict:
Human-wildlife conflict occurs in many villages situated within and on the periphery of forests. Herbivores like elephants and wild pigs are attracted to agricultural crops due to their better nutritional content, or easily accessible stored grains and haystacks, causing huge losses to the farmers in the process. Livestock have weaker anti-predatory instincts and can be easy targets for large carnivores, causing further losses. Human-wildlife conflict also occurs when people venture into forests to graze cattle, or gather forest produce like firewood and grasses.
Indiscriminate economic and infrastructural development, intentional forest fires, deforestation, and overgrazing can lead to loss, fragmentation, and degradation of wild spaces, and be drivers of conflict. These activities put pressure on already shrinking habitats, forcing animals and humans closer in space to use the same dwindling resources.
1. Community solar-powered fences -
Interactions and face-offs with elephants are quite common for the people living in the villages in the MM Hills - Cauvery landscape. These interactions can sometimes be harmless, but more often can result in the loss of lives, injuries, and major financial losses due to damage to infrastructure and crops.
Based on the conflict-affected people’s inputs and requirements, we provided community solar-powered electric fences to farmers to collectively secure their farms. The initiative was implemented on a cost- and responsibility-sharing basis, with the costs and labour being shared fairly, and the farmers being responsible for routine maintenance. These fences carry a mild electric current enough to deter animals but not harm them, and have been successful in keeping wild herbivores such as elephants, wild pigs and deer away.
After installing the fences, our beneficiaries report better harvests and nearly no losses resulting from wildlife incursions. With reduced need to keep a watch at night, the farmers report better sleep, getting an average of eight hours of sleep per night as compared to three hours before the fence. 87.5 % of the beneficiary families now report profits from the produce they grow, and are able to store excess produce for their consumption throughout the year.
2. Solar-powered Lights -
Many households settled along the periphery of the protected areas are extremely remote and as a result, are not linked to the power grid. Given their proximity to the forests, these families face frequent night-time visits from conflict-prone wild species which are mostly active or move around after sundown. Villagers often store large haystacks. Elephants are commonly drawn to the haystacks as ready fodder, and in the dark with no lights to deter them, they end up trampling the surrounding areas, causing huge losses.
Constant wild animal visits, coupled with the inability to spot them in the dark cause severe anxiety and fear among these people. The remoteness and isolation of their houses, as well as their socio-economic status make this situation tougher to deal with, leading to resentment towards wildlife. To mitigate this and facilitate an improved quality of living, we provide solar-powered lights to these families. Lights deter wild animals and illuminate the area outside so the people can spot an approaching wild animal. Each solar light kit includes a solar panel, battery and three lights and is provided on a cost sharing basis.
Post-intervention conversations and qualitative assessments have shown that the solar lights provide a sense of much-needed security to the families. There is an improvement in their quality of life due to reduced stress, fear, and anxiety. This initiative has also brought in the social benefit of helping their children study at night, and allowing people to complete more work in a day.