Trumpeting for long-term solutions

1 year, 5 months ago 1
Posted in: Blog

Representational image © Srikanth Rao

A fan club for a crop-raiding elephant may seem a paradox but if Chinna Thambi (meaning little brother), a wild elephant has been left free (for now) and not captured and tamed as per initial pans, it was thanks to the club.

This tusker in Coimbatore has been raiding crops in the field and also damaging shops and homes in search of grains and fruits. Following protests from locals, he was translocated to a forest 100 kms away but soon enough, found his way back home! Plans to catch and tame him were suspended after a campaign was launched to let him be. After all, China Thambi has not harmed any human so far. His movement is now being watched by anti-poaching teams and any signs of aggression will mean the end of the free road for this one.

According to the Karnataka Elephant Task Force Report, some of the primary causes of human-elephant conflict are: loss, fragmentation and degradation of the natural habitat, regional changes in land-use pattern, attraction from the superior palatability and nutritional properties of cultivated plants as compared to the natural forage of the elephant, etc.

Tamil Nadu has been seeing a rise in human-elephant conflicts and resultant deaths. These conflicts are likely an outcome of habitat loss and fragmentation, with encroachments continuing largely unchecked. News reports cite that the government has failed to take action, despite many pleas to acquire vital land in elephant corridors. One long-standing request from experts has been the clearing of Kallar corridor which can facilitate pachyderm movement from the Nilgiris to the forests of Silent Valley. So far only four out of the 17 elephant corridors identified in TN by a WTI study have been notified by the government.

Encroachment is an issue not only in TN. A huge chunk of more than 40% of elephant habitat in the country is not protected and is a free for all.

Elephants travel long distances in search of food and water and knowledge on migratory paths used are passed down the generations. This can range anywhere from 300-600 sq kms of a forest depending on the nature of the habitat. Availability of pockets of nutritious food that cater to their needs, as against undertaking long and arduous journeys to meet diet demands, have been ascribed to pachyderms getting habituated to human food crops. People in elephant land tell tales of the same elephant coming back year after year in the summer, for jackfruit – a favourite fruit.

Lores around elephant memory are many and at times take on anthropomorphic emotions of loss and fear! For instance, in Chinnakanal near Munnar a ‘problem elephant’ is ‘Kannan’. The place falls under and elephant corridor which has seen massive encroachment in the form of plantations. The elephant herd which is almost trapped in the region often comes into confrontations with the people.

“In one such encounter, an elephant was shot in the leg and the wound got worse and she died a terrible death over a few days. Accompanying her was a calf and that is our Kannan. He has experienced what humans have done to his mother. Now he attacks humans whenever he feels a threat. Can you blame him?” asks Aneesh, a tribal tracker at Periyar Tiger Reserve and part of the ecotourism initiative. Aneesh and his family have seen the way the elephant habitat got encroached over the years.

Between invasive species and general degradation of natural habitat, the resultant food scarcity has been one of the reasons cited by some conservationists as the reason why herd sizes have drastically dropped. Given this, simply fencing off protected areas cannot be the answer to mitigate increasing conflicts. This could even amount to condemning the populations to starving.

India accounts for 60 % of the population of Asian elephants, and according to the government figures from the 2017 census, showed presence of 27,312 elephants with South India home to a large chunk of around 12,000 elephants.

The safest bet if we are to protect our National Heritage Animal is to secure elephant habitats and corridors in a way that allows for movement of elephants looking for food and water, while also ensuring that existing habitats are not degraded further. Failing this, more Kannans and Chinna Thambis will be the order of the day. Online campaigns and fan clubs won’t suffice.


One Response

  1. Suganthi Sathiyamoorthi says:

    True! How can we take action or are there any actions take that we can be part of. I believe everyone genuine interested in this issue would like to contribute in any form to bring meaningful resolution. As the habitat is fragmented so are the voices of the people. How can we bring them together to take meaningful Actions. I believe organizations like WCS can work with government , forest Department and villagers to implement a plan to return elephant habitats back to elephants and thus save forests and nature for better good for all.

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