The catch-22 of human-wildlife conflict in Koshi Tappu

The launch event of Koshi Conservation Center offered an opportunity to reflect on how best to mitigate loss and suffering during human-wildlife conflict without harming the wildlife.

People chase away wild elephants near the India-Nepal border. (Photo: courtesy: WWF)

Anushka Nepal

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Human-wildlife conflict is a reality in Nepal but the government has taken no visible mitigation measures yet. This problem is widespread across various conservation areas in the country. So is the situation in the Koshi Conservation Area.

The residents got to place all their demands in front of representatives from the National Trust of Nature Conservation (NTNC), a governmental organization that strives towards the preservation of flora and fauna all over Nepal, on the day of the launch of Koshi Conservation Center (KCC). The event was held on September 17, 2021, where the authority gave the local’s representatives an opportunity to put forth their concerns. 

During the launch of KCC, locals of Koshi Rural Municipality explained their problems regarding the continuing animal attacks that have caused human casualties and property destruction in the area.

Till date, the government has failed to take any actions regarding the encroachment of wildlife in residential areas, said the locals present during the launch event. 

The president of Wildlife victims Support Committee, Panchanarayan Mandal, believes that NTNC itself has not been responsible enough to address the issues regarding the human-wildlife conflict. These issues were more or less known to the authorities but they made little effort to mitigate them. “The promises to improve our lives were only limited to words and not in action,” Mandal said, speaking at the event.

But, among all other issues, the attack of the single wild elephant, called Makune, present in the Koshi Tappu, has wreaked havoc on the Koshi Rural Municipality.

Problems caused by the wild elephant

On August 13, 2021, a 55-year-old Ramekhang Khatwe of Koshi Rural Municipality-4 in Sunsari lost his life to an attack by a wild elephant. 

In another unfortunate incident, on December 14, 2020, a 28-year-old youth Pramod Yadav, a local resident of Shreepurjabdi area of Koshi Rural Municipality-7, was killed in a wild elephant attack.

In the fiscal year 2020/2021, as many as four people lost their lives to the attack, informed Babu Ram Lamichhane, office in-charge of NTNC Biodiversity Conservation Center, Chitwan.

Besides the human casualties, the wild elephant has destroyed houses and crops of the residents, leaving them in terror.

Tired of losing their loved ones and their properties, many locals have thought about the termination of the elephant that has been causing the problem. They believe that people’s lives and properties are more valuable than one elephant. 

But termination of the elephant is not an ideal way to deal with the situation; it is also punishable by law. Keeping that in mind, people have also made sure that they presented the authorities with alternative ways to make their lives more convenient.

Mandal shared his concerns regarding the safety of the residents of Koshi Rural Municipality from the wildlife within the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. His main request with the NTNC was to convert the reservation into a National Park, so that the wildlife will have a restriction towards passing through the residential area.

Termination of the elephant is not an ideal way to deal with the situation; it is also punishable by law. Keeping that in mind, people have also made sure that they presented the authorities with alternative ways to make their lives more convenient.

LIkewise, Ayub Ansari, head of Koshi Rural Municipality, had several other suggestions on how the place can be made safer for the people. 

He believes that the solar barricade or a trench can keep the wild elephant from crossing the area and attacking the villagers, and will minimize the loss of humans and property.

Moreover, he even appealed to the NTNC to shift the wild elephant to some other national parks of Nepal, as the area of Koshi Tappu is comparatively smaller to that of the other national parks. That is one of the reasons why the elephant wanders off towards the residential areas. 

Yadav and Ansari also pointed out that every villager including them are not happy with the lack of initiation of NTNC, and are hoping that establishing the KCC will bring certain changes to the lives of the people within the Koshi Tappu. 

Opinions of the experts

Although experts from NTNC empathize with the situation of the villagers, they believe that their suggestions on minimizing the situation might do more harm than good.

When it comes to making trenches in the Koshi Tappu, experts from NTNC are concerned that the trench will be flooded with Saptakoshi river, making the wetland not so feasible for farming. That will ultimately result in unemployment and land loss.

Converting the reservation into a national park is not the best idea when it comes to the study and conservation of flora and fauna within the Tappu, said Krishna Prasad Oli, the president of NTNC. He believes that the commercialization of Koshi Tappu will disrupt the research and exploration that happens regarding the wild species within the area, which might cause a negative impact towards the study of the ecosystem, in the long run. 

Similarly, when asked about the solar barricades, Naresh Subedi, program manager of NTNC, said that elephants are smart enough to figure out a way to escape the solar barricade, which will come off as a less effective way of prevention in the long run. 

Likewise, shifting the elephant might result in the safety of the residents; but, on the other hand, it will also deteriorate the number of elephants in Nepal, as that one wild elephant, Makune, is the sole reason for the increase in the number of elephants within the Koshi Tappu, according to Lamichhane.

Both believe that the best way to deal with this situation will be to educate the locals to coexist with the wild elephant. For instance, Subedi mentioned that if the locals grow crops disliked by the elephant in the front with others behind those crops, the elephant will turn around, doing no harm to the crops.

Similarly, he said that it is important for people coexisting with the elephant to understand the triggering factor that makes the elephant aggressive. For this, he believes that it is necessary for NTNC to conduct programs that will help the locals understand the nature of the elephant that will help them prevent further casualties.

Increasing human population, encroachment of forest areas, unplanned urbanization, destruction of natural animal corridors, agricultural expansion up to forest boundaries, among others, have made human-wildlife conflict inevitable, the experts Nepal Live Today talked to argued. Human suffering cannot be ignored. At the same time, we cannot afford the extinction of wildlife either.