The killing of two ‘rogue’ elephants in West Bengal over the past one month has brought the issue of growing human-elephant conflict in south Bengal to the fore.
On July 5, a large team of forest officials, along with professional hunters, tracked down a tusker at Beliatore in Bankura after hours of failed efforts to tranquilise it. Another tusker, which forest officials claimed had killed four people, was hunted down in the same area three weeks later.
“The lone tusker identified by us [the Forest Department] as T8 was declared rogue in February 2016 after it killed four and injured two,” said Pradip Vyas, Chief Wildlife Warden of West Bengal.
Well-known ecologist and expert on elephants, Professor Raman Sukumar, told The Hindu that the human-elephant conflict in West Bengal is like a “festering wound,” a crisis he has been predicting for over 20 years.
In 2015-16, 108 people were killed in West Bengal, of which 78 deaths occurred in south Bengal.
Explaining the gravity of the conflict, Professor Sukumar, who is associated with the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, said that ten times more human deaths are caused in West Bengal than anywhere else in the country.
‘Capture and rehabilitate’
“Unless there is a phased programme to capture and rehabilitate large numbers of elephants in south Bengal, the situation will remain the same and both elephants and humans will be killed,” Professor Sukumar said. The habitat of south Bengal, which now has about 140-150 elephants, cannot sustain such a large population of pachyderms, he said.
“These elephants used to migrate from the Dalma forest range but they are now staying in the State for a large part of the year,” Professor Sukumar said. “What is the point of having a large number of elephants in an area which is largely agricultural and has fragmented forests?”
North Bengal, which has relatively vast forest patches, sustains about 600 elephants.
Chandan Sinha, Principal Secretary of the State’s Forest Department, said the migration of elephants had increased over the past few decades but hurdles to movement had arisen in south Bengal. The migration to the south occurred from the Dalma hills in Jharkhand but elephants were unable to enter Odisha to complete the journey as trenches had been dug along the border.