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12 May 2017 | Blog

REDD+ to Use Electric Fences to Address Human-wildlife Conflict

Shuvani Thapa & Banikoi Hudu

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Lack of regular maintenance of electrical fence increases the occurrence of human-wildlife conflict Photo: Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD

The relationship between humans and wildlife is a challenging one. While people place and recognize boundaries around their houses, communities, and countries, animals do not recognize them. As humans and wildlife increasingly find themselves competing for space, a continual struggle for resources leads to human-wildlife conflict (HWC). Conflict between people and wildlife has been widely recognized as one of the most challenging issues for wildlife conservation. While Nepal’s conservation efforts have been hailed globally, increasing incidences of attacks on humans by wild animals and vice versa are seen as a big challenge for conservation. Several measures have been adopted by conservation managers and local people around protected areas to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

Chitwan and Nawalparasi are districts within the Terai Arc Landscape in Nepal, where the first REDD+ programme is being developed by the REDD Implementation Centre (REDD IC) to access result-based payment from the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) of the World Bank. REDD+ has the potential to improve wildlife habitat and have a positive impact on biodiversity conservation. As wildlife populations increase, conflict with humans who live near forests will also likely increase. Therefore, the mitigation of and solutions for human-wildlife conflict must be better understood if REDD+ is going to succeed.

Measures employed to mitigate HWC in the buffer zones and adjoining areas of the Chitwan National Park (CNP) have ranged from traditional methods that include watch towers and shouting to scare away animals to modern barriers such as electric fencing. Several kilometres of these electric fences have been constructed along the boundaries of the park and community forests in the buffer zones and adjoining areas of the CNP to mitigate conflict between humans and megafauna such as rhino and elephant. Studies have found electric fencing to be the most effective mitigation measure against rhino and elephant, which cause a lot of property and crop depredation in the area. There have been recommendations from studies and requests from local communities to expand electric fencing.

In the past 17 years, 158 people have died in the area as a result of human-animal confrontation, the main reason being the expansion of human settlements. In September 2016, the day the REDD+ research team reached CNP, tigers had attacked livestock, injured a women in Thori and killed a man in Kasara. In April 2017, a woman was killed by a tiger in Nawalparasi’s community forest when she went to fetch fodder for her livestock. Prior to this incident, two other deaths were reported in the vicinity, possibly resulting from attacks by the same animal. HWC becomes inevitable when humans encroach on animal habitat. Tigers are territorial animals and elephants remember paths they have walked on for almost 50 years. When human settlements started to thrive along these paths and territories HWC inevitably increased.

Electric fence being used for drying clothes
Photo: Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD

While electric fences do provide a possible solution, they can also have unintended consequences if not used properly. Rhino, deer, leopards and elephants can be and are electrocuted to death by improper fences. Therefore fence quality, the electric systems and fixing of fences, together with timely maintenance are essential for effectively mitigating HWC without unintended consequences.

Both the mitigation of and solutions for HWC are fraught with management challenges. A REDD+ field analysis found that only 26% of the electric fences installed in the CNP area are in good condition and operating effectively, while the rest are out of operation due to technical faults, poor maintenance, and natural disasters such as floods. The fences that are functional serve a great function. “A decade ago, wild animals like tigers would come and eat our livestock. After the instalment of the electrical fence, when the tigers got a quick shock, they jolted and never returned,” says a local ranger.

Electric fencing as a mitigation strategy cannot be sustained unless good maintenance is practised. In addition, compensation schemes should be revitalized to ensure efficient and timely payments, which will help increase awareness and encourage the peaceful coexistence of local people and wildlife. Finally, effective coordination between national parks, district forest offices, community forest management committees, and local communities is of utmost importance to mitigate and minimize conflicts between humans and wildlife.

Mapping of operational electrical fence
Photo: Shuvani Thapa/ICIMOD

While conservation is seeing a dearth of finance, the performance-based payment instrument REDD+ uses could be one financing source for the maintenance of existing fences and the building of additional fences. Innovative ideas such as chilli and bee fences could also be tried as they have worked in some areas in Africa. There is growing evidence of increasing HWC in Nepal as the country’s conservation efforts have been successful in increasing tiger, elephant, and rhino populations in protected areas. But these territorial wildlife are now moving to buffer zones and community forests as they explore new habitats while human settlements are also growing exponentially. Nepal’s REDD+ interventions need to take cognizance of increasing HWC and explore how mitigation activities can be supported in the future.

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