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Habitat, Loss Of

Habitat, Loss Of
Photograph by Getty Images
Habitat, Loss Of

Apart from its negative impact on biodiversity and climate change, the humans’ crushing ability to forcefully occupy erstwhile habitats of plants and animals, like in the case of excessive deforestation, leads to large-scale human-animal conflicts. Here are a few glaring examples from a special issue of Current Conservation:

The Mydas Touch

In the Agatti island of Lakshwadeep, the fishermen are in conflict with the herbivorous green turtles (Chelonia Mydas) in the belief that the huge population of the latter reduces their fish catch. The locals believe that the turtles “disturb the fish away from nets, and can often break nets by swimming through them.” The fishermen also feel that because the turtles excessively graze on sea grass in the lagoon, they reduce the fish usage of the same meadows and lead to “reductions in fish recruitment to lagoon environments.” Studies show that both the direct and indirect notions were largely correct. The nets were regularly damaged, and the people had to spend additionally to mend them, which also led to loss of work man-days. Research shows that the “sea grass in the high herbivory areas of Agatti were stretching themselves to the limits of their growth,” as the sea turtles consumed 80% of the primary production. Comparison with another lagoon area, Kadmat, where the turtles were absent, and the sea grass was similar although taller, thicker, and denser, reveal that the fish population was four times higher than Agatti. Hence, the green turtles caused an ecosystem-wide changes “with dramatic flow-on consequences for fish usage, and eventually the livelihoods” of the local community.

Motor Vehicle Inspector

This was what a 45-year-old wild elephant was named by the locals. On the Joda-Barbil road in Odisha, the tusker would stop every truck, and demand food by tapping on the windscreen. Although this is a frightening, but a less dangerous tale, every year, there are increasing incidents of loss of human lives and crop destruction by wild elephants, either in herd or individually. At the same time, it must be understood that the mammal too is at risk — the residents can seriously injure, even kill, them. An injured bull (male) is less likely to reproduce, which can impact the animal’s future population.  The elephants have several reasons to maraud the villages. Their home ranges are between 100 and 1,000 sq km, as measured by elephants’ collars and radio transmitters. Hence, when human populations increase their habitats, they can impinge on the animals’ traditional migration paths. Hence, en route, the elephants cause extensive damage to cultivated lands. In addition, the tuskers love the sweet sugarcane and finger millet that we grow because they are both tastier and nutritious than the coarse, wild grasses. The more proteins and minerals imply that the elephants, especially the males, are healthier and, hence, can reproduce more successfully, and for longer periods.

Sugarcane Leopards

Between 1980 and 2010, the Akole valley in Maharashtra witnessed huge transformations. On the one hand, the semi-arid and drought-prone area became fertile and cultivable due to irrigation. The valley turned into a “lush mosaic of pale green blades of sugarcane, rich velvety green of banana fronds and rangy strands of corn. Set among them were smaller plots of onion, sorghum, wheat, cauliflower… grown for the wholesale markets of Mumbai.” The human population zoomed. What was fascinating was that predatory leopards seem to peacefully coexist with the humans in the area. “Locals know there are leopards around, some have seen them, others have heard about them and some have lost calves, dogs or goats. But people here seem largely tolerant of the predators’ presence probably because no human life has been taken.” Researchers found that the paths of the humans and leopards intersected quite actively. Photographs showed that the two used the same paths within minutes of each other. One of the reasons of this coexistence was possibly because the leopards had easy access to food — stray dogs and feral pigs — and, hence, maintained smaller home (hunting) ranges. It also implied that they left the humans alone, and did not attack them.  

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