The National Board for Wildlife, a statutory body under the environment ministry, has recommended that state governments use section 144 of the criminal code that deals with unlawful assembly prohibiting the gathering of more than four people, in the case of wildlife emergencies.

Human-wildlife conflict has been intensifying in India because of habitat fragmentation and growing pressure on forests, leading to wilful deaths of animals.

In April, hunters from a local tribe speared a tiger that had strayed in the forests of Jangalmahal in West Bengal. In 2016 a leopard was beaten to death by villagers in Gurgaon after it injured eight people. Forest officials who came to tranquillise the animal said that they were hampered in their efforts by a crowd.

According to the minutes of a meeting held in June, the provision will be used to “prevent people gathering in large numbers, which aggravates wildlife emergency situations.”

Human-wildlife interactions can turn ugly not just in areas where there is a simmering wildlife conflict but also because of lack of awareness. A python met its death this week, thanks to selfie hunters in Babuijor village in West Bengal. A peacock died in another part of the state when it was mishandled by villagers fixated on getting the perfect selfie.

“In a situation when a carnivore or a large herbivore is reported within a human-dominated space, a crowd gathers near the animal within minutes. By the time the Forest Department. staff reach the spot to capture and rescue the animal, the crowd makes things difficult for technical operations,” Dipankar Ghose, director, species and landscapes at WWF-India, said. “Moreover, the frontline staff of the State Forest Departments are often not trained for mob control.”

The Union ministry is expected to issue advisories to the state governments. The District Magistrate (DM) is empowered to enforce section 144, that prohibits the gathering of more than four people.

“When there is a human-wildlife conflict, a crowd is going to interfere, it will make the situation much worse,” Janaki Lenin, author and conservationist, said. “In many cases, they have trapped and killed the animal.”

Lenin said that even the existing protocols are not being implemented properly and that there should be an inter-agency effort involving local law enforcement and administrative bodies in such cases.

The Board has also recommended that Standard Operating Procedures or action plans be developed for emergency situations when a wild animal comes in close proximity of humans. There are already SOPs and guidelines in places for species like tigers, leopards and elephants.

Another recommendation is for states to compile traditional knowledge and methods of dealing with human-animal conflicts.

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