Sikkim’s Lower Kitam and Talkhadka districts shift towards newer practices to reduce human-wildlife conflict
Over the last 20 years, villages located along the fringes of Sikkim’s 8 Protected Areas are seeing an increase in human-wildlife conflict. Enabling peaceful co-occurrence between wildlife and humans is of vital importance. Two such areas, Talkhadka and Lower Kitam, comprising majorly of communities dependent on agriculture, and animal husbandry, see their sources of livelihood impacted by wildlife. The severity of the problem was illustrated as reports of farmers completely abandoning their agricultural practice came to the fore. Continuous crop raids by animals such as the black bear, wild boar, marten, eagles, peacock and leopard and monkeys, have pushed locals to finding alternative sources of income which are significantly lower.
The geography of Lower Kitam is such that the area shares parts of its boundary with the Kitam Bird Sanctuary and the Manpur Reserve Forest. The proximity effectively ensures interaction between humans and wildlife – chalking it out to be a vulnerable area. This sub-tropical belt aids the rain-fed subsistence agriculture, households rear cows, goats pigs and poultry to supplement their income and food. With recurrent attacks on their crop and cattle, the region requires much work to be put in: to minimize casualties, and eradicate conflict.
Talkhadka faces a similar problem at equal magnitude. Situated on the fringe of the Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, it is the last village towards the sanctuary boundary at an altitude of 2000 meters. Cardamom farming is the chief occupation here, alongside cultivation of potatoes, beans, peas, and radish; very few have ventured into the service sector or the government. As limited options are available, the area struggles to cope with the rising tensions between humans and wildlife.
With this background, the WWF-India and Axis bank partnership was initiated in October 2017, which is working towards the goal of reducing human wildlife conflict by implementing mitigation measures. The expertise of DLR Prerna, an organisation working on HWC management in Darjeeling has been sought for meeting of the project objectives.
Efforts towards the management of human-wildlife conflict in villages entailed consultations on bio-fencing intervention with Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department and Eco Development Committees. This was augmented by community consultations for both sites to provide a platform to exchange ideas, and share possible solutions. DLR Prerna members shared their experiences of bio-fencing interventions in Darjeeling villages and assisted the process of intervention.
Lower Kitam responded favourably to the suggestion of bio-fencing whilst at Talkhadka, it was discovered that bio-fencing was not a feasible option due to the large swathes of cardamom fields under cultivation. Kitam discussed multi-purpose plant species that could be used for fencing, as well as fodder and fruit. Interestingly the community in Talkhada have shown great enthusiasm in the adoption of simple wire mesh coop designs for poultry pens. Another innovative design to protect poultry is the chicken tractor, basically a movable chicken coop lacking a floor which allows the birds to forage and rest and at the same time stay protected from predators.
Another objective of this project was to promote alternate livelihoods to augment household income. A culture of responsible tourism replete with opportunities of starting home stays and touring packages is developing – especially since Sikkim is fast becoming a much sought-after tourist destination in the country. This can be capitalized on through proper capacity building of locals and marketing efforts. Efforts are being geared towards the promotion of natural and cultural assets as part of the program.
In Talkhadka, interactions with families involved multiple discussions to understand their interest in providing accommodation for travellers as well as delineate the concept of home stays. A larger community discussion around responsible tourism was organised which saw the participation of community members that included the Zilla Panchayat members and the Gram Panchayat President. Locals and resource persons from the Ecotourism and Conservation Society came together to list out the strengths and weaknesses of this initiative. The main attractions for tourists in the village focused around nature and culture promotion. Flora and fauna along the adjoining sanctuary, fishing points in the riverside, pristine lakes, cultural diversity, and organic agriculture practices were noted as potential avenues which could draw tourists in. However poor road connectivity, erratic phone network and lack of electricity during monsoons are significant obstacles to this venture – which need changes on a macro level.
To provide exposure and training to interested locals, a visit on Homestay Management and Responsible Tourism was organised in Kitam for the community members from Talkhadka. With the homestay experience and open conversation offered by Rohan Kaushik, a local homestay operator, the trip was a fruitful one. They were then escorted on a learning trip the Hee Gyathang Homestay in Dzongu, North Sikkim run by tourism entrepreneur Mr. Tenzing Lepcha, who in his interactive sessions vividly described his journey and experiences in the tourism sector enriching the conversation with facts about his village’s rich culture.
Another interesting development during the community consultation was that, bio-briquettes manufacture and sale was listed as one of the alternative livelihood sources for self-help groups from Kitam. Observing the keen and eager locals, the project also introduced the promotion of improved cook stoves at these sites which met with positive responses.
It is hoped that these initial steps towards resolving conflict will begin to show results – with the area gradually transforming into a safer zone limiting negative interactions between humans and wildlife.
The project is being implemented as part of a partnership between WWF-India and Axis Bank with the goal of reducing human wildlife conflict in fringe villages of two protected areas in Sikkim.