A few solar street lights and a lot of bio-gas – this is all it’s taking to reduce the risk of wildlife attacks on people living around Rajaji Tiger Reserve.

“There are two ways in which we can encounter wild animals such as tigers – one, when we go to forests in search of fodder, wood and timber. Two, when the forests, which are constantly shrinking, become too small for these animals, who then venture out into human settlements looking for food or to simply cross over to other areas,” says Pyarelal Ranakoti, a resident of Gangabhogpur Malla, a village located near the Tiger Reserve.

© WWF-India

To make villagers’ lives easier and in ways that do not harm the animals or forests, WWF-India has been working in the villages of Gangabhogpur Malla and Gangabhogpur Talla to find sustainable solutions that reduce villagers’ excessive dependence on forests while also reducing human-animal conflict. Over 20 bio-gas plants have been installed and a subsidy of 50% given on 58 LPG connections in these villages to protect humans and animals from each other.

© WWF-India

How bio-gas plants reduce encounters between humans and wildlife is very simple. As villagers’ dependence on timber and fuel reduces, so do their visits to the forests. Fewer visits to the forests mean fewer chances of encountering a wild tiger or any other species, thereby reducing potentially fatal encounters. However, this is not the only benefit of using bio-gas plants or LPG stoves. “Bio-gas units have reduced the fuel wood consumed in the villages for cooking by 60% and the number of daily visits to the forest. Not only are these plants easy to use, they are maintenance-free, produce no smoke – reducing chances of respiratory illnesses sometimes caused by conventional chulhas - and leave villagers with more time on their hands by mitigating the need to visit forests,” says Pankaj Joshi, Project Officer – Community, WWF-Dehradun.

Besides this, WWF-India has installed 50 solar street lights in the two villages, which are surrounded on three sides by the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. Wild animals, generally avoid areas that are well lit. The probability of chance encounters turning fatal, such as those with elephants when they raid crop fields, is also reduced due to better lighting.

When wild animals cross over to raid the fields or pass through the villages at night, they are not always visible. This leads to a situation where the probability of chance encounters increases, especially during the harvest season, when elephants mostly raid fields. These street lights, powered completely by the sun, help keep the villages lit during the night, reducing chance encounters.

Chaith Singh Rana, a resident of the Gangabhogpur Talla village, also turns the sludge that comes out of his bio-gas plant into a completely organic vermicompost– keeping some for his own use while selling the rest at a good price to other people. By setting such examples, people in these villages are answering a much larger question and in the affirmative – can the ecological and the economic go hand in hand?

As people living in villages, located near protected areas and forests that inhabit endangered species, are involved in conserving the natural world around them, there is a better chance for nature to thrive and, in turn, provide them with ecological services, which often intangible, can prove to be of great economic value.

- with inputs from Pankaj Joshi, Project Officer – Community, WWF-Dehradun

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