Free Press Journal

A toll-free number helps villagers live with animals


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Bandipur National Park (Karnataka): For someone whose cow — valued at Rs 20,000 ($300) — was killed by a tiger in August 2015, Mahadeva Gowda is calm, as is Shiva Murthy, whose sugarcane crop was trampled by elephants in July 2016, the fifth such pachyderm raid over the past year.

Gowda and Murthy are the latest beneficiaries of a new programme called Wild Seve, or wild service, which deploys specially trained locals called “field agents” who hand-hold villagers to navigate formidable government compensation procedures. What once took up to 15 days — if farmers bothered to apply at all — now takes as little as four days.

In doing so, Wild Seve — run by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a nonprofit that works with the government’s forest departments in 284 villages in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu — helps soothe the tension and violence evident between India’s rising human population and falling population of wild animals.

“Earlier it was difficult to interact with villagers when there was wildlife conflict, as they used to get aggressive. From the time Wild Seve started, it has educated them about the importance of wildlife and sustainability,” said a forest official, who asked not to be named, as he is not authorised to talk to the media. “It has brought a sense of calmness in villagers while dealing with our department.”

In Murthy’s village of Chillakahalli and Gowda’s Vadeyannapura on the bucolic outskirts of south Karnataka’s largest national park — as on populated forest fringes nationwide — human-animal conflicts are a growing issue, as IndiaSpend reported in May 2014, says IANS.

Gowda received Rs 9,000 as compensation for his cow, but he is satisfied. “Previously, we had to pay money to get compensation,” he said. “First, we had to hire a photographer to take photos of crop raids or cattle kills. Then we had to travel by bus to the forest department, and there was no guarantee we would find them (officials).”

Murthy used Wild Seve’s toll-free number when elephants destroyed his sugarcane crop. Field agent Mahadevaswamy — who also attended to Gowda’s call — informed and brought along a forest official to validate and document the claim. Photos must be taken and official documents filled, all of which are handled by field agents.