Pilot Testing of Curriculum on Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation for Front-line Forest Officers from India and Southeast Asia at the Wildlife Institute of India

18 Dec, 2018

The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in partnership with the Indo-German Project “Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC)” in India, conducted pilot testing of the curriculum for Human Wildlife Conflict mitigation as part of the “XXXIV Certificate Course in Wildlife Management” during 13-18 December, 2018 at WII (Uttarakhand).

WII has introduced Human-Wildlife Conflict Management as a separate sub-module with modified course content, structure and mode of delivery, in the existing 3-month Certificate Course on Wildlife Management. The aim of introducing this sub-module is to discuss the HWC mitigation issues in a more focussed manner during the course.

The implementation of this sub-module also served as a pilot testing of the newly developed curriculum on “Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation”, which was developed in the 4 consecutive curriculum development workshops. This newly introduced sub-module “Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation” is based on competencies-based approach of curriculum development. The sub-module on HWC mitigation was delivered using participatory training methods, such as role-plays, quizzes, simulations, case studies, field expeditions, thematic champions, knowledge cafés, demonstrations and hands-on exercises. The field expedition also included simulation of tracking a collared wild animal and its capture process.

A total of 18 front-line officers from various states of India, as well as participants from Myanmar and Malaysia, are participating in the Certificate Course on Wildlife Management.

The sub-module has been designed to help participants achieve the following learning outcomes:

  • Outline concepts and issues in wildlife management and HWC mitigation using a landscape approach;
  • Differentiate between different conflict scenarios based on landscape, location, species involved, and community involved;
  • Outline existing and potential HWC mitigation measures;
  • Analyse each mitigation measure based on its effectiveness and wildlife-friendliness;
  • Describe the success factors required for receiving cooperation from other sectors and stakeholders in mitigating HWC;
  • Analyse legal opportunities and limitations in conflict management;
  • Demonstrate (in a simulation) animal capture and rescue methods and their applicability to different species;
  • Demonstrate proficiency in implementing ‘early warning and rapid response’ system for mitigating HWC and;
  • Appreciate their future role in mitigating HWC in their area.

Day 1 began with the inaugural session and an overview of the HWC mitigation module and training approach. The session saw senior faculty and experts such as Dr. V B Mathur (Director, WII), Dr. S Sathyakumar (Scientist-G), Dr. K Ramesh (Scientist-E), Dr Parag Nigam (Scientist-F), Dr. C Ramesh (Scientist-C) from WII, Sh. Ajay Desai (National Wildlife Expert) from Deutsche Forstservice GmbH (DFS) and Dr. Neeraj Khera (Team Leader, HWC Project) from GIZ.

The training started with an exercise on ‘benchmarking’ to understand the experiences and expectations of the participants. This would help the trainers in pitching the training in the right way. An interesting concept of ‘Thematic Champions’ was introduced, where each participant chose a topic relevant to HWC mitigation and focused their learning on this particular topic throughout the training. At the end of the training, they had to share information and updates on the topic with their fellow participants, as part of the ‘peer learning’ process. This was followed by expert inputs via panel discussion on – “What is HWC, its key drivers and an overview of mitigation measures”, facilitated by Dr. Neeraj Khera. The panel experts– Dr. K Ramesh, Mr. Ajay Desai, Dr. S P Goyal (Emeritus Scientist) and Dr. Parag Nigam, provided inputs on landscape ecology, in the context of HWC, and elements in a landscape approach. They also discussed what HWC meant, basic facts and data about it, its key drivers, the importance of field craft, and an overview of the existing and potential HWC mitigation measures.

A Role Play on – ‘Courtroom scene on legal proceedings of a fictitious case related to Human Wildlife Conflict’ was enacted, which helped participants experience the entire process and understand the nuances of a crime scene investigation, its technicalities and the process of documentation of such cases. The courtroom scene was followed by a Knowledge Café where the experts Dr. P C Tyagi (Senior Professional Fellow), Sh. Surendra Mehra (CCF WL, Uttarakhand) and Sh. Ajay Srivastava (Scientist-G) facilitated the participants in gaining further clarity on 3 questions:

  • Which are the activities in the field where forest officers should consult legal experts?
  • Which law and guidelines are a must to know for each forest officer?
  • Which are the things that they should avoid doing in the field?

Day 2 started with a quiz contest based on the participants’ existing knowledge, as well as Day 1 learnings on wildlife conservation, ecosystem services, wildlife law and policy and human-wildlife conflict. Afterwards, case studies were presented by experts: Sh. Dhananjai Mohan (APCCF, Uttarakhand Forest Department), Prof. BC Choudhury (Executive Trustee, Wildlife Trust of India), Sh. Ajay Desai (National Wildlife Expert, DFS), Dr. S Sathyakumar (Scientist-G) and Dr. K Ramesh (Scientist-E, WII) on issues such as landscape context of key species and their behaviour, including primates, carnivores, herbivores, crocodiles and sea turtles. This was followed by discussions on HWC mitigation measures, understanding HWC at landscape level and wildlife population management. The session ended with a discussion on the important issue of science-management cooperation, especially when it comes to research on human-wildlife conflict issues. In the afternoon, Dr. Bivash Pandav (Scientist-F) and Sh. Ajay Desai further discussed the specific case studies of elephants and tigers in context of HWC. Sh. Ajay Desai presented a case study on a tiger which was deemed dangerous to human life, he shared the sequence of events with insightful inputs on identification of the animal under conflict, procedures to be followed during capture and rescue operations and methods of efficiently documenting these for better legal standing.

The day ended with participants working in the Geographic Information System (GIS) lab, with Dr. K Ramesh and the GIS Team (Mr. Manoj Aggarwal and Ms. Alka Aggarwal) to identify conflict hotspots, drivers of conflict in a real case from Haridwar and Rajaji, as well as to prepare for the field expedition for the next day.

Day 3 was dedicated to experiential learning through field expedition to Rajaji-Haridwar. Participants shared their views on the options for human-wildlife conflict mitigation in human-dominated landscapes, discussing the challenges they faced and their possible solutions. The site visits and discussion were focussed on crime scene investigation, identification of the problem animal, tracking the problem animal and its eventual capture, which was done as part of a simulated exercise. The field expedition was facilitated by Dr. Neeraj Khera, and coordinated by Dr. Aditi Sharma (Senior Veterinary Officer, Rajaji Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand Forest Department), and included inputs from field staff, and experts from WII, GIZ and DFS.

On Day 4, participants shared news stories from their field expedition, in the form of a Role Play (Newsroom), where they competed–as Media Professionals–to get their story shortlisted by the Editors. The Editor’s role was played by two Media Trainers–Mr. Ramesh Menon and Mr. Ananda Banerjee. They provided inputs on how Media works and shared strategies to engage with the Media in the long term as well as during a crisis situation. This was followed by another Role Play where different participants portrayed the roles of Forest Department officers, Media Professional and Observer. The session helped the participants to understand different ways of engaging with the Media professionals using various media and communication strategies.

Dr. Bilal Habib (Scientist-E) also shared a real-life case of media reporting on wildlife issues. The rest of the afternoon session was dedicated to human-leopard conflict mitigation, where the case of urban landscape from Sanjay Gandhi National Park was discussed by Mr. Nikit Surve (Wildlife Conservation Society) and the case of rural areas in Pauri Garhwal was discussed by Dr. S P Goyal (WII).

In the evening, the participants were provided with the details of the simulation case they would be playing the following day. The description consisted of details from the fictitious country of Taxum, the state of Ceebano, and an overview of various roles. The participants spent the evening preparing for their roles, as well as for the Thematic Champion presentations.

On the 5th day, the participants were provided with confidential instructions for the Simulation Exercise and given time to prepare for their role. This was followed by the final act in the Simulation Exercise – a meeting in the state of Ceebano to reach consensus on the most appropriate HWC mitigation measures. The exercise was successful in actively engaging the participants as they played the role of representing different sectors and stakeholders. The simulation exercise achieved its objective of facilitating learning from cross-sector cooperation, importance of multi-stakeholder engagement, decision-making and negotiation skills by giving different stakeholder roles to the officers. These included top-most decision-makers, senior officials in the Forest and other key departments, media reporter, member of animal rights group, member of a local NGO, representatives of a local community, member from planters union etc. Dr. A K Bhardwaj (Senior Professional Fellow) and other faculty members and experts provided their inputs as observers.

The second-half of the day was dedicated to participants sharing their overall learning from the HWC mitigation sub-module and experience on the topics chosen by each one of them as Thematic Champions. The session had presentations from participants, which helped in knowledge-exchange among them as part of the ‘peer learning’ process.

The sub-module ended with a final reflection session, which began with the ‘Repeat Benchmarking exercise’ to understand the changes the 5-day sub-module might have brought about in the overall understanding of the HWC issues among the participants. The result of the benchmarking exercise was self-explanatory as there was a major leap in the overall understanding of the key HWC issues. The participants shared that the key learning areas for them were:

  • Engagement with other sectors and stakeholders, especially the Media;
  • Confidence in field craft especially animal rescue methods;
  • An enhanced understanding of the behaviour of key wildlife species in conflict and their drivers;
  • HWC mitigation using landscape approach;
  • Outline existing and potential HWC mitigation measures;
  • Improved understanding of Early Warning and Rapid Response system and;
  • Analysing legal opportunities and limitation in conflict management.

Participants shared that they felt ready for a real-life work-situation vis-à-vis human-wildlife conflict mitigation from this training.

Mr. Vimarsh Sharma and Ms. Priya Poonia from GIZ supported in organising the pilot testing.

Among the 18 participants of the Certificate course, 4 participants (2 from Karnataka, 1 from Uttarakhand and 1 from West Bengal) have been sponsored by the Indo-German Project.