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Conservation, conflict and costs: living with large mammals in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India

Conservation, conflict and costs: living with large mammals in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India
Nisha Rachelle Owen

2013

School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UNITED KINGDOM.

ABSTRACT

Human-wildlife conflict is a growing obstacle to biodiversity conservation, while the resulting consequences continue to hamper sustainable development. The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in the Western Ghats in South India, characterises a mosaic of land use and biodiversity conservation, human privilege and poverty, and is a case-study for a wide range of conflicts with endangered large mammals such as tiger and Asian elephant.

This thesis explored the social, ecological and economic contexts to conflicts with wildlife over livelihood production systems, namely agriculture and livestock, taking an interdisciplinary approach to determine key drivers of conflict losses and perceptions, ascertain the effectiveness of and decision-making process behind the choices of mitigation measures, and understand how the implementation of more effective community-based solutions may be established.

The presence and intensity of conflict is driven by habitat degradation, forest proximity, and crop or livestock holding extent, while perceptions are strongly linked to proportional loss and economic investment. The most effective intervention methods were electric fences to protect crops, and guarding or the use of sheds and corrals to protect livestock. Households prefer to establish electric fences around fields, given the institutional failings in effectively maintaining electric fences around protected areas; or to utilise more effective guarding practices, but are hampered by issues of cost and labour effort. The majority of households believe that the government Forest Department should be responsible for managing conflicts, accepting very little personal responsibility.

Collective action through community co-operatives can enable access to expensive but effective technologies such as electric fencing, and co-operation can be improved if schemes recognise the importance of landholder demographics in assessing costs and benefits, base contributions on risk, minimise pre-imposed constraints, and understand the problems of community heterogeneity. Reducing risks from conflict and improving livelihood production systems can be a potential and powerful incentive for biodiversity conservation.