Living With The Wild
The 19th day of November 2018 was like any other day for Vikram of Pangi, Chamba district. He was walking his cattle in the nearby village pasture by the banks of the Chenab river. Little did he know that his life was about to change. While walking through thick shrubs and vegetation, he didn’t realize that he had accidentally come too close to a brown bear. The sudden realization of the proximity threatened the animal, and out of fear, it attacked Vikram. Vikram caught off guard, did his best to reduce the impact of the attack. He managed to save his life but suffered multiple grievous injuries all over his body and partial loss of eyesight. He immediately went to the nearest hospital to get medical help. He later filed for compensation with the Range Office in Pangi.
Brown Bear; Photo courtesy Janko Ferlic from Pexels
In another part of Himachal, a snow leopard, in the dark of the night, entered the corral of a herder and killed 20 animals. The herder, overnight, lost most of his livestock, and being in one of the remote areas, he had no clear idea of what had to be done and how he could get some economic relief from the forest department.
Such cases are not new to these herding communities who often come in close quarters with the wildlife around their villages and pastures. Some of these instances lead to a lot of emotional stress and in some scenarios may also impact the individuals’ personal relationships. It is a very heavy price one pays for living around wildlife. We must ensure that anyone who suffers such a loss is not neglected and helped throughout the process.
Reinforcing the roofs of the corral to make them predator-proof; Photo courtesy Nature Conservation Foundation
Although this problem has been a part of herder’s life for many generations, there are new-age solutions to prevent and mitigate some of these economic losses. One thing that every individual can do beforehand is to economically safeguard themselves and their family, in case of a medical emergency, by opting for accidental death and disability insurance offered by the central government under Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY) scheme. Although there are eligibility criteria, some degree of financial coverage can be availed from Ayushman Bharat as well. Himachal Pradesh Government offers Ayushman Bharat through its Himachal Pradesh Swasthya Bima Yojna Society (HPSBY). If one does not have any life insurance or pension plan, they should also consider getting one from Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) and Atal Pension Yojana (APY). For more details on these insurances refer to Table 1. The Forest department also has provisions for providing relief in case one is attacked by wildlife. For details on relief rates offered by Forest Department refer to Table 2.
For livestock, one could take steps to prevent such an incident by repairing and reinforcing corrals to ensure no gaps in walls/doors remain. The roofs can be reinforced with metal mesh to close off all possibilities of attack in the corral. Regular and timely maintenance is of utmost importance. However, the livestock is prone to attack in the pastures and forests as well. Village-level measures, like the insurance program, can help reduce the losses suffered due to such attacks. When the collective losses of the village are high, then insurance of livestock can be planned where the premium and compensation are decided by the villagers and a village committee manages the insurance fund. In case of a loss suffered by a family, compensation is paid out from such a fund. However, the community must be careful and set clear rules and guidelines when starting a village-level insurance program. Currently, there are three villages in Spiti valley where are the community runs the insurance program.
The forest department also provides compensation to the herders in case the livestock is killed by wildlife. However, despite all good intentions, there can be genuine difficulties in timely administering such claims by the forest department and one must be patient but persistent. For details on relief rates offered by Forest Department refer to Table 2.
There are also some traditional solutions to the problem of livestock depredation. For example, in Gue village of Lahaul & Spiti district, there were multiple cases of surplus killing this year. Whoever lost their livestock were helped out by the entire community by each household contributing an live animal to the owners in exchange of a dead animal. This practice not only takes the stress of losing livestock away but also does not let herder suffer economically. Such practices are reported in other parts of Himachal as well. I am sure that there will be many other local solutions that I have not talked about. I would love to hear about them. Do write about the practices adopted to prevent and mitigate losses from wildlife in your village. Also, if you want to take up this issue in your own village or start an insurance program and need further assistance, do reach out to me or my team. Our details are available on the last page of the newsletter.
A herder in front of his corral; Photo courtesy Snow Leopard Trust
In the end, I would like to mention that there is no one, sure shot solution to such complex problems, but Himachalis have continuously been adapting to these challenges, a characteristic of life in the hills, and putting up with the adversities they face.
About the Author
Deepshikha Sharma is working with Nature Conservation Foundation as Conservation Manager. She enjoys working with communities and traveling to new places. She is working with communities on conservation projects in the upper Himachal landscape.