Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Conflicts in the Thar

At sunset, the Thar desert is golden and the colours are surreal. It reminds you of a water-colour painting.

This is a group of female neelgai antelope with young ones.
I clicked this photo at the Samsaara Desert Camp near Jodhpur.
We were ooh-ing and aah-ing when our guide explained to us that the neelgai were a major threat to his farm crop (millet and mustard are grown in the Thar, apart from many other things). 

Mustard crop in the desert terrain, typically seen in winter
The negative feeling in our guide's voice was clear: he did not like the neelgai. His tone made me stop and think about man-animal conflict, and how groups of people who traditionally have coexisted with animals are now losing their tolerance. Traditionally the neelgai has not been hunted in India because it is believed that this is a type of cow. But attitudes are changing.
A farmer with small land holding near Jodhpur.
I met him on my last visit, he explained his
crop cycle to me.
I don't blame farmers for disliking the neelgai. Life is precarious in the desert, and farming is not easy. Once the crop is sown, it must be guarded from being eaten, which is of course, taxing for small farmers (since the labour usually is sourced entirely from the farmer's family).

Farmer's family taking mid-day meal break in the field.
Farming is largely manual labour, it is back-breaking work.
Unfortunately, there is no systematic, nation-wide approach towards managing man-animal conflict. The root causes of the problem are well known: widespread loss of natural habitat and food sources, changes in land use and cropping patterns, cutting off of wildlife corridors, and so on.

What is to be done? We need comprehensive policies that treat land in a holistic manner irrespective of state boundaries; we need to think about our 'development' model. We need to reduce the population growth rate, so that whatever progress we make is not eaten away by the huge new numbers. 

None of it is easy.