Uttarakhand plans bio-fences to check man-animal conflict

Lalmani Verma
Officials say leopards and bears, along with elephants and wild boars are a major threat to human life, livestock and crops.

To prevent wild animals from entering residential areas and to protect agricultural crops and livestock in areas adjoining to forests, the Uttarakhand government has decided to carry out bio-fencing by growing various species of plants in those areas.

According to officials, lemongrass, agave, rambans, and certain species of chilly and some other plant species have been identified to be grown at areas where wild animals enter residential areas and near forests.

Officials say leopards and bears, along with elephants and wild boars are a major threat to human life, livestock and crops.

So far, the state Forest Department had been using traditional methods like solar-powered wire fencings, walls and pits in the woods to prevent the entry of elephants, wild boars, tigers, leopards and others in residential areas. Officials said bio-fencing will be economical and environment-friendly as compared to the other methods.

Bio-fencing with lemongrass will be done to prevent entry of elephants because elephants do not like the smell of lemongrass. Likewise, agave will be grown to deter elephant and wild boars. This biotic method is environment-friendly and harvesting of such plants can also be economical for farmers. Directives have been given to explore bio-fencing in the state, said Jai Raj, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), Uttarakhand.


Why govt is looking at bio-fencing

According to G S Rawat, Dean, Faculty of Wildlife Sciences and in-charge Director of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, solar-powered wire fencing is effective only when local villagers maintain them. About erection of walls in forest areas, a senior Forest Department official said building and repairing them is a costly affair. A forest official said that if local farmers agree to be part of the bio-fencing exercise, they can earn by growing lemongrass, a good source of oil. Also, bio-fencing will help save the money the government spends on building walls, digging pits and on solar-powered wire fencing.

In the first phase, bio-fencing will be done in the forest areas of Haridwar, where elephants and wild boars cause maximum loss to human life, livestock and crops.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in Haridwar, Akash Kumar Verma, said, We have selected site-specific plant species for bio-fencing according to presence of wild animals. In Haridwar, maximum threat is from elephants. Lemongrass deters elephants and that plant will be grown at specific sites. The DFO said that a fence of rambans could be effective in deterring wild boars, blue bulls, Chital and Sambar, which damage the crops most. He said that rambans and kanta bans both can deter wild animals as physical barriers.

Once these plants are in place, the department will string beehives in the next phase to deter elephants.

G S Rawat, Dean, Faculty of Wildlife Sciences and the in-charge Director of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, said, People have tried bio-fencing in the past too. Agave plantation was quite effective in deterring herbivores. Lemongrass too could be good. But more work needs to be done on this and it is good that the Uttarakhand Forest Department is thinking on these lines. Let them experiment.

According to officials, incidents of man-animal conflict occur in forest areas almost daily, and many cases go unreported. The Haridwar DFO said incidents of conflicts between leopards and humans were rare, but conflicts between elephants and humans occur almost every day.

According to Forest Department records, 342 people were killed and 1,857 persons were injured in man-animal conflicts over the past six financial year across the state. Wild animals also killed 31,919 livestock and damaged 2,065 hectare crop in the same period. In the current financial year, 16 people have been killed in conflict with wild animals till July.