BHUBANESWAR: Growing incidents of man-elephant conflict has brought the grim reality of depleting quality fodder in the state’s forests.
As many 426 people have been killed in elephant attacks between April, 2010 and September, 2016, the survey report of Wildlife Society of Odisha (WSO), an NGO working on wildlife conservation, revealed. What is distressing is during the same period 476 elephants have died due to various causes, including natural ones.
In both cases depleting elephant habitat and transformation of land pattern is to be blamed. Lack of quality fodder is forcing elephants to leave their habitat and look for food elsewhere, especially in adjoining areas such as agricultural field, resulting in growing conflict with human population.
“The state government is claiming to be taking massive plantation drive to provide leafy food to the pachyderms in degraded forest but the claim seems to be in pen and paper only,” alleged Bisawjit Mohanty, the WSO secretary.
The Chandaka wildlife sanctuary, which is located on the outskirts of the capital city, is best example of how its resident elephants continue to desert the sanctuary year after year. The latest census records the presence of only eight elephants in the sanctuary, a steep decline from 50 six years ago. Rapid urbanization is eating into the sanctuary’s lush green forest, forcing authorities to look for alternatives to grow plantation for elephant food.
Mohanty alleged that the state forest department is not taking up proper weeding of plants that interfere with shrub-type grass cover which is best suited for elephant food.
“It is mandatory to clear the weeds so that elephants can eat the tall grass. The quality of forest in most of the elephant habitats is on the wane,” he added.
In the past six years the highest number of people killed in elephant attacks was registered in 2012. At least 80 people were killed that year. Between January 2014 and September 2016, 288 elephant attacks were reported in which 68 people died. In most of these cases the elephant attacked inadvertently while damaging the houses. People were killed while sleeping.
Recently forest minister Bikram Keshari Arukh admitted in the assembly that growing urbanization, forest fire, forest land encroachment and industrialization are forcing elephants to move out of their habitat for food.
Principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Siddhant Das said the elephants have got used to eating paddy crop. “Since they (elephants) are getting better food easily, they are heading towards human habitation,” Das said, adding that it is resulting in man-elephant conflict.