A street play being performed at the village of Dhobasila, Nilagiri Block, Odisha
Nilagiri District, Odisha, September 26, 2016: In a bid to engage with, educate and sensitise local communities affected by human-bear conflict in the Nilagiri district of Odisha, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), as part of an ongoing Rapid Action Project (RAP) under its Wild Aid division, concomitantly organised street plays, mock drills and a media workshop in villages in the region in the months of August and September.
Street plays have proven to be extremely effective across a number of WTI projects at striking an emotional chord and conveying complex ideas simply and succinctly. A series of performances were conducted over the past two months in high conflict villages such as Kantabania, Kathagochhi, Gujudiha, Mahisapatta, Salbani Samil, Mitrapur, Bhalukasuni and Dhobsila, to educate the local populace on the behaviour and ecology of bears.
Mock conflict drills were also organised at Kathagochhi, Gujudiha, Mahisapatta and Dhobsila in August and September, covering a total of 16 villages (four at each location). Such role-plays help to gauge levels of preparedness for actual conflict situations, and aid in the development of standard operating protocols for village communities and especially the Primary Response Teams (comprised of representatives from conflict-prone villages) that are supposed to monitor and manage such situations to save both human and animal lives. Broad guidelines were also passed on to the villagers to help prevent conflict situations – for instance, avoiding the jungle in the early mornings and evenings, not taking foodstuffs when walking through the jungle, and carrying long sticks when moving through areas that bears are known to frequent.
A mock drill in progress at village Gujudiha, Nilagiri Block, Odisha
Finally, to address the widespread negative reportage (and its larger public impact) on human-bear conflict and bears in general, the project team decided to engage with the local media through a workshop, sensitising mediapersons to the importance of bears in the ecosystem and urging them not to demonise bears. The workshop was held at the Ratnakar Town High School, Nilagiri on August 11 and was attended by the Assistant Conservator of Forests – Baleshwar, the Ranger – Nilagiri, eminent environmentalist Mr Aniruddha Das, wildlife expert Mr PC Madaraj, the head teacher of the school, community members from nearby villages and over 300 students. About 17 journalists from media houses such as Shruti, OTV, Samaya, Dinalipi, Prameya, Prajatantra, Sambad/Kanak, Kalinga TV/Sanchar, Sarba Sadharan, Pragatibadi, Anudhyan, Aaji Kaali, Dharitree and Tirtha Kshetra attended the workshop. Several articles on human-bear conflict and ways to address it were published following the workshop.