Never mind where you live in the country, it is commonplace to see or read about human-animal ‘conflict’. Often these reports are graphically narrated in language that evokes an insensitive and non-inclusive approach. In Delhi it’s the ‘monkey problem’, in Kerala there’s the ‘stray dog menace’, and in Mumbai there are reports of ‘killer leopards’. The wordy onslaught continues even if pictures speak of the horrific violence on the animal — it is chased, stoned or burnt to death.
A recent example is the disturbing photograph of an elephant calf that appears to have flames on its hind leg as it runs with an older elephant (possibly its mother) from a crowd of people throwing “flaming tar balls” at them in West Bengal. We don’t know if the calf survived this incident.
The reporting of similar incidents involving stray animals or wildlife needs to be handled sensitively, with language that does not inflame an already fragile situation or alter facts. In fact, Humane Society International even approached the information and broadcasting ministry for a dialogue regarding the protocol for print and electronic media on reporting wildlife ‘conflicts’ to prevent the “criminalising” of animals and the retaliatory outrage it could spark against the animal or species.
A fact-based narration of a conflict situation often reveals faultlines being breached by human involvement. Protected habitats are encroached upon for human dwellings. Hillocks are broken down for real-estate projects. Migratory corridors are not respected. Buffer areas (mandated around protected green areas to keep wild animals away from humans) are encroached upon. At Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park, citizens are fighting to keep the greentops and the animals in it. Chennai and Mumbai have demonstrated how city-dwelling stray animals are effectively managed through sterilisation and other similar interventions. All it requires is an inclusive approach; sensitive reportage can help create such an attitude.