15 Feb, 2021
A training for the rapid and primary response team (RRT) was organised on 15 February 2021, at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun as part of the ‘Knowledge Support to Development of Guidelines, Specialised Field Studies, and Training on Human-Wildlife Conflict mitigation in India’ under the Indo-German project on Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC) in India. The training aimed at improving the understanding and strengthening the skills of frontline staff on crowd management and legal aspects of HWC. 19 participants ranging from Range Forest Officers to Forest Guards, from the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, Haridwar, and Dehradun Forest Divisions of Uttarakhand Forests attended the training. As an ice-breaking activity, Dr Rishi Kumar (Project Scientist, WII) and Dr Pradeep Mehta (Technical Advisor, GIZ) conducted the benchmarking exercise.
At the inaugural session, Dr S. Sathyakumar (Scientist - G, WII) welcomed all the participants and guests. Dr Pradeep Mehta (Technical Advisor, GIZ) briefed participants on the Indo-German technical cooperation project on HWC mitigation and the role of GIZ as an implementing agency. He elaborated on the three landscapes selected as the project pilot sites and the State Action Plan, Management Action Plan and Guidelines for 10 species/groups being prepared under the project. He also spoke about the Rajaji-Haridwar-Dehradun pilot site selected in Uttarakhand and early warning rapid response system, rapid response teams and hubs being set up in the state. Dr Dhananjai Mohan (Director, WII), in his inaugural address, noted that “several RRT training for frontline staff were conducted and planned in the landscape however, all training till now focused on key conflict species. However, this training covers a common problem faced by all frontline staff in the field. In most cases of HWC, we need to manage the species and the crowd and other related legal aspects”. He emphasised that for crowd control, coordination with the police department is crucial and here the state police has good experience in handling crowds during HWC cases. He encouraged the participants to share their challenges and experiences during the discussions.
In the first session of the training, Ms Kahkashan Naseem (DFO, Mussoorie) presented case studies and shared her experience in crowd management and the legal aspects of planning and executing operations on human-wildlife conflict situations. She gave an overview of HWC in the state with details of human injuries and human-animal deaths due to accidents, retaliations and snares. She noted that during incidences involving tiger and elephants, even a small situation gets aggravated. She gave instances of various HWC cases, how the crowd reacted in these cases and the role of police in the management of the crowds. She identified various stakeholders in the crowd such as the victim/s and their families, the local communities, political persons, village leaders. She emphasised that the frontline staff (QRTs, RRTs) should have a good rapport and experience with these stakeholders, particularly the political persons, gram pradhans, media groups. She spoke about identifying and involving genuine conservationists who are concerned about the species and can help teams in controlling the situation. She elaborated on different ways to engage the media by sharing notes, photos, videos and maintaining contact via social media.
Understanding the behaviour of the crowd and the body language of people is very essential because the individuality of people is lost in a crowd and people may behave very differently. Crowd building can be stopped initially by cordoning off the area with help of the police. Thus, staff that is good at handling crowds should be identified. They should be confident but not aggressive. This session was followed by an interactive discussion where Ms Kahkashan Naseem and Dr Dhananjai Mohan clarified the doubts of the participants and also emphasised the need to involve communities.
The second session focused on ‘Crowd management in human-wildlife conflict situations’. Mrs Nivedita Kukreti Kumar (SSP, Intelligence, Police), held a highly interactive session and asked the participants to enumerate the kind of management needed for crowd control. She elaborated as the crowd does not have any identity or face, and has collective thinking. People flow in the mood and temper, and they also believe and follow others. She noted that during human-wildlife conflicts most people are silent observers, they want to see the animal or photograph them, there are also victim sympathizers or family of victims, others gather to observe for entertainment. She gave tips on handling aggressive mobs where, if a mob has already gathered, a fast preliminary analysis of the crowd is essential. She emphasised that frontline staff should not lose their composure or patience, never give false information, and always state facts because if a crowd is mishandled, the situation can become very challenging. She pointed out that a mob or crowd is effective as long as it does not have any identification. Thus, one of the basic ways to diffuse a crowd is to start recording the names and addresses of the people. Also, all crowd situations should be video recorded.
For media engagement, a standard operating procedure (SOP) should be followed and only one responsible person from the staff should deal with the press. Social media can be used for information purposes such as giving statements as soon as possible or requesting communities to avoid entering an area during animal movements, to prevent crowd aggregation. It can also be used for sharing videos on Do’s and Dont's for safety, and to help build better rapport with the people where they will identify the staff and will give them authority during conflict situations.
As a long-term solution, Mrs Kukreti Kumar emphasised identifying people who can raise awareness or can be involved in the capture situations. Regular interactions with such groups, particularly the youth, by involving them in activities such as sports, can help establish long-term positive networks. Such groups can be involved in capacity building exercises, and involved in situations immediately for managin crowds. This was followed by an interactive session of question-answers and experience sharing. The participants shared some difficult crowd build-up situations they had faced. Mrs Kukreti suggested that if in an urgent situation the SP or SSP may be needed to be involved, the frontline staff should inform the DFOs or higher authority. For handling situations involving women, female officers should be involved and if needed help can be taken from the female staff of government offices, Anganwadi workers, etc. These interactions should also be recorded on video.
In the post-lunch session, Dr Samir Sinha (APCCF, Uttarakhand Forest) presented a Field Manger’s perspective on planning and executing operations on human-wildlife conflict situations. He shared his experience with the participants on various case studies of wildlife rescue and conflict in Uttarakhand. A major factor for the rise of HWC is the decreasing tolerance of the people for wildlife. He presented various historical cases on HWC in the country. He emphasised that people are frightened by what could have happened rather than by the actual event i.e., the same tour guide who wishes to see a leopard during the day may be frightened if a leopard comes near their house at night. He explained that the conflicts also increase due to a growing tendency to seek instant solutions to conflicts without investing substantially in any activity to avoid them. He also cautioned against solid waste accumulation in the forest fringes, which attracts herbivores, who attract carnivores, to the villages. He gave various instances of HWC situations in Uttarakhand, and how innovative methods were used to deal with them. There are various legal aspects of HWC and staff should be aware of these aspects. Involving local communities and media is also an important aspect of the communication of the response teams. In the interactive session, the participants identified problems they faced in the field and appreciated the insights on the HWC cases in the state.
The last session of the day was a role-play ‘Courtroom Session’ to understand the intricacies of legal issues and courtroom proceedings. Dr Samir Sinha, Dr S. Sathyakumar and Dr C. Ramesh acted as the bench of judges. The participants selected the roles of various actors in the courtroom case based on a hypothetical case of HWC conflict. The team representing the forest department, animal rights activists, members of communities, media presented their arguments. Dr Samir Sinha enumerated the various issues in documentation, arguments, and facts or evidence presented by the two sides. He emphasised that thorough background work needs to be done by the department before presenting a case, and staff present in the courtroom should be well aware of the case. Dr Sathyakumar concluded the session with an appreciation of the highly interactive sessions and the continuous experience sharing throughout the programme.
The Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC) project implemented by GIZ in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and State Forest Departments of Karnataka, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, aims at providing technical support at the national level, and effective implementation of HWC mitigation measures in selected states of India. The project pilot sites are: Haridwar Forest Division and adjoining landscape including Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand, Gorumara Wildlife Division in West Bengal, and Kodagu Forest Circle in Karnataka.
The main objective of the project is that the rural population in project areas, where agreed guidelines and tools are applied to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, is better protected against it. The project takes the approach of harmonious coexistence, by ensuring that both—human and wildlife—are protected from conflict. Read more
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