IN its report entitled “Gajah: Securing the Future for Elephants in India”, released in August 2010, the Elephant Task Force of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests defines human-elephant conflict (HEC) as “the adverse impact people and elephants have on each other”. The report says: “Severe, widespread HEC is the index of failure to protect forest cover or reverse their fragmentation and degradation. On an average, nearly 400 people are killed annually by elephants and about 100 elephants are killed by people in retaliation.”
The report says elephants damage crops on 0.8 to one million hectares annually. Assuming that an average family holds one to two hectares, it means HEC affects at least 5,00,000 families.
“The levels of conflict are high in many parts of the elephants' ranges but are very serious or quite high in States like West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. More than half the expenditure incurred by Project Elephant under the 10th Five Year Plan is for HEC mitigation,” the report says.
The mitigation measures include erecting solar-powered fences and digging elephant-proof trenches (EPTs), installing a light with novel features to alert people if an elephant has entered a human settlement, and radio-collaring of elephants to track their movement.
M. Ananda Kumar, wildlife scientist, and his colleagues from the Nature Conservation Foundation have devised a lantern that can be installed on a tall pole to alert people about elephant movement in the vicinity. “This early warning light can be triggered with a mobile phone. The lantern has a SIM [subscriber identification module] card with a number, which when called will turn the light on. It can be seen from a distance of 500 metres or more,” said Ananda Kumar, who is a PhD in psychology, including on animal behaviour.
D. Rajan, a wildlife enthusiast, swore that EPTs, with cow's thorn grown on the bed of the pit, would deter elephants from entering farm land.
According to V. Thirunavukarasu, District Forest Officer, Coimbatore, trapezoid EPTs with a width of 2.5 m at the top and one metre at the bottom and a depth of 2.5 m are effective in keeping elephants away from fields. The Coimbatore Forest Division has dug such EPTs on a stretch of 19 km covering Naickenpalayam, Thondamuthur and Sirumugai in Coimbatore district, and will do so for another 80 km this year. “Besides, we can devise our own strategies because all the established theories have been disproved by HEC,” said Thirunavukarasu.
As the report suggests, the first step will be to develop regulatory mechanisms that stop habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation that initiate and escalate HECs.
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