When I started out my work on understanding human – animal interaction, I was particularly interested in the extent of damage caused by animals due to crop raiding. I live in Shenbaganur, surrounded by small scale farmers. I would hear stories of gaur destroying fields, wild boars digging up potatoes and sambar deer herds frequenting farms. My neighbour, a 70 year old man, would work on his field in the day and stay up the whole night to protect his crop at night. Sometimes, looking at his sleepy eyes in the morning, I would think he was drunk! Xavier often tells me that soon agriculture wont be a viable income option anymore.
Now, seven months of visiting villages across the Palani hills and having talked to close to 500 farmers, 98% of families interviewed have experienced crop depredation by animals. 65% of the household interviewed think that the frequency of crop raiding by animals has increased in the last 20 years. Alagavel from Vilpatti village said that he hadn’t even seen a gaur when he was growing up and suddenly now they come to his field everyday. There has been no drastic change in agriculture practice in the last 20 years in the Palani Hills. The shift from crops like semai, foxtail millets and paddy to cash crops like carrots, raddish and potatoes in the upper Palanis happened about 40 years ago. So why this increase in the last 20 years? Maybe there has been no increase and the perception of loss is more now due to our present economy. Maybe there is. The general opinion in the villages for the reason for this increase seems to be the strict laws on not harming the animals when they come to the field. “ We would shoot a boar or two when they came into our fields before, this would scare the rest away for a long time. Now, the wild boars know that we will not harm them and are getting bolder by the day” says Palaniswamy from Gundupatti village.
52% of people interviewed said that they lost more than a quarter of their crop to animals this year. Fields bordering the wildlife sanctuary face more conflict than fields near the village, this however doesn’t count for the wildboars which roam everywhere.
The range of economic loss due to animals raiding crops, passing through fields, breaking fences etc was anywhere between Rs 5000 to Rs 700000 depending on the area damaged and the kind of crops damaged. The average loss across is around a whopping Rs 60000. No wonder Xavier and many many many farmers like him in the Palani Hills don’t want their children to take follow their steps.
1. Dhruv Athreye in February 2018 began a survey of mammals in the Palani Hills and is publishing notes of his field work.