Training on Holistic Approach on Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation in India

02 Aug, 2019

A 5-day training on a ‘Holistic Approach on Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation in India’, for Divisional Forest Officers (DFO) and Assistant Divisional Forest Officers (ADFO) of West Bengal, Karnataka and Uttarakhand was organised by the Indo-German project on Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC) from 29 July - 02 August 2019 at Chalsa Gorumara.

The participants included 22 officers from West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Karnataka, experts from the West Bengal Forest Department, GIZ, DFS Germany (Deutsche Forstservice Gmbh), WWF (World Wildlife Fund), Tea Association and Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and independent wildlife experts.

On the first day, the participants were welcomed and provided with the overall context and training approach by Mr Ravi Kant Sinha, PCCF & Chief Wildlife Warden West Bengal, Mr Ujjal Ghosh, CCF Wildlife North - West Bengal, Dr Neeraj Khera, Team Leader, HWC Project and Dr C Ramesh, Scientist C, WII. This was followed by a panel discussion to set the ground for further dialogue. An introductory overview of the HWC concept and the drivers was provided by Mr Ajay Desai, followed by an overview of HWC in the development context and DPSIR (drivers, pressures, state, impact and response) framework by Dr Neeraj Khera. Mr Ravi Kant Sinha and Mr Ujjal Ghosh discussed the current state and data on HWC and the need for a database on the same while Mr David Smith from WWF discussed the impact of HWC. This was followed by a discussion on response in terms of policies, institutional strengthening and local management action plans.

Thereafter, a Role Play on Legal Proceedings (a courtroom scene) of a fictitious HWC case was enacted, where the participants received inputs and feedback from experts, including Mr Roy P Thomas, expert from MoEFCC. This was followed by a Knowledge Café on 4 topics- HWC national strategy and action plan, SOPs, national database and HWC management action plan at division level. The day ended with a reflection by the participants on their contributions in mitigating HWC in a sustainable and effective manner.

Day 2 of 5-day training began with a recap by participants and a quiz on animal ecology and behaviour.

This was followed by a dedicated session on human-leopard conflict. Dr Ramesh Menon, Adjunct Professor, Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication discussed the case of active Media engagement in bringing a change in people’s perceptions towards leopards in Mumbai. Dr Aditi Sharma, Senior Veterinary Officer, Rajaji Tiger Reserve, shared the situation of conflict and good practices in human leopard conflict in and around Rajaji and Haridwar. Mr Aritra Kshettry, Inspire Fellow, Department of Science and Technology (DST) shared the issues and good practices on Leopard Human Conflict in North Bengal, while Dr Subhadeep Bhattacharjee GIZ, shared a case of good practice in inter-state cooperation in tracking a tiger in conflict. The issue of Human-Macaque conflict was also discussed by Dr C Ramesh, Scientist C of Wildlife Institute of India and Dr Rishi Kumar, Project Scientist in GIZ-WII Grant Project.

Participants also played a game which lead to a discussion on the channels and practices to be used for communicating with other sectors and stakeholders.

An overall approach on Human-Elephant Conflict at landscape level was shared in the next session by Mr Ajay Desai during the fishbowl discussion where he also shared experiences from Jharkhand and Karnataka. Mr Maria Christu Raja, DFO Virajpet and Mr Shivram Babu, DFO Hassan shared the issues and good practices from Karnataka while Mr Bhaskar JV., DFO Bankura Division West Bengal shared the overall situation and mitigation measures in North and South Bengal areas. Global Good Practices, with specific examples of Ivory Coast and Liberia, were also shared by Dr Floris Deodatus. This was followed by discussions on the effectiveness and ethics in immunocontraception, live fencing, post capture issues and overall landscape approach.

By the end of the day, all the participants had commenced work on the HWC Management Action Plan for their respective divisions, but in groups of neighbouring divisions to effectively bring out the landscape approach.

The third day of the training focused on experiential learning via field visit and working on HWC Management Action Plans at landscape level. As a part of the field visit, the participants visited a tea estate to understand the conflict around the area from the perspective of the management and workers, after interacting with them. They also interacted with the Rapid Response Team-Elephant Squad to understand their functioning and observed the situation of high conflict due to railway crossings.

The key feature of the day was that the participants of this one-week training were joined by the experts of the Elephant-SOP group whose meeting has been running parallel to this weeklong training at Chalsa.

Brainstorming on key HWC landscape level issues and current good practices in West Bengal, Karnataka and Uttarakhand was facilitated by Ms Nisha Goswami, DFO Gorumara and Mr Bhaskar JV, DFO Bankura. Experience-sharing amongst the officers on HWC mitigation measures being used in the three states proved to be very fruitful.

Participants further strengthened their work on the HWC Management Action Plan for their respective divisions, in groups of neighbouring divisions to effectively bring out the landscape approach. Each landscape group shared the drivers, pressures, current state, impacts and the strategic plan to address them, and received feedback from other groups on fine-tuning their plans.

The fourth day of the weeklong training focused on Media strategies, inclusive approach to HWC mitigation and contributions from the participants on the Elephant SOP being developed under the HWC Project. The day started with the recap of the previous day, followed by a role play, facilitated by Mr Ramesh Menon, deepening the understanding on the functioning of the media sector and the challenges faced by media professionals.

After this, a work session was facilitated by Dr Neeraj Khera, for stakeholder mapping and towards developing a strategy to prioritise and effectively engage other sectors. Results of the working group were shared by the participants in the form of a panel discussion.

Next was a combined session with the Elephant SOP group to discuss the outline of the media strategy for human-wildlife conflict mitigation in India.

This was followed by a panel discussion focusing on an inclusive approach to HWC, looking into the technical issues of monitoring of HWC mitigation measures. Ms Alka Tomar and Mr Aritra Kshettry spoke on community engagement, gender inclusiveness, with specific case studies on communities living in the tea estates of North Bengal while Mr Ramesh Menon shared some practical tips and ideas for media dialogue and relationship building with the media.

Dr Aditi Sharma, Senior Veterinary Officer from the Rajaji Tiger Reserve discussed the occupational health and safety measures relevant to HWC mitigation while Dr K. Ramesh, WII shared a landscape approach to identify the intensity and economic impact of various HWC situations and provided examples for analysing mitigation measures.

The participants had another joint session with Elephant SOP group, implemented as a Knowledge Cafe, where special focus was on issues of occupational health and safety, legal provisions for human elephant conflict mitigation, decision-making tree for mitigation process and media strategy. After an intense and elaborate discussion amongst the four groups, the outline of the Elephant SOP was further fine-tuned.

The day ended with a brainstorming session where the resource persons and members from the Elephant SOP group shared the proceedings with Mr Soumitra Dasgupta, Inspector General of Forest (Wildlife) MoEFCC and fine-tuned the strategic and operational details of the SOP.

The last day of the training focused on consolidating the learnings and plans of the group. The day started with a reflection on key policy issues related to HWC mitigation with Mr Soumitra Dasgupta, IGF (WL) MoEFCC, followed by a recap of the past four days.

The next session was a simulation exercise based on a fictitious State called Ceebano where an HWC mitigation Strategy needed to be adopted by the State with the consensus of all departments and stakeholders (in a meeting called by the Chief Minister). The deliberations in the simulation focused on cross-sector cooperation where the participants had the opportunity to reflect and analyse the key elements, perceptions and thought processes that govern the interaction between people performing their respective roles in different departments and agencies.

During the Knowledge Cafe the participants worked on developing action plans on key issues, such as rapid response teams, communication strategy, strategy to effectively engage scientific research to answer management questions and action plan to effectively engage key sectors and stakeholders. Participants also worked on their personal learning goals -each participant taking three specific goals on HWC mitigation action for the next 3 to 6 months.

The participants received certificates and key messages from Mr Dasgupta, Mr Ujjal Ghosh, Mr Prasanta Pandit and Dr Neeraj Khera.

The 5-day training ended with the final benchmarking exercise, which showed extremely positive learning outcomes. The resource persons Mr Ajay Desai, Ms Alka Tomar, Ms Aditi Sharma, Dr K Ramesh, Dr Floris Deodatus, Dr C Ramesh, Dr Subhadeep Bhattacharjee, Dr Dibyendu Mandal, Dr Rishi Kumar, Dr Upma Manral and Mr Aritra Kshettry appreciated the results and provided their feedback to participants on taking their action plans forward.