The key measure pertains to the creation of a “solitary elephant dossier”, which would track the movement of animals identified as “repeat offenders” — particularly in south Bengal, where the problem is most pronounced due to dense human habitation and severely fragmented forest. Officials said the dossier would be created along the lines of “historysheets” for criminals and be used to ensure that conflict is mitigated.
“Once the animal is identified and its movements tracked, this information will be used to alert villagers about animals in their vicinity, so that they can take precaution. This will also help us in keeping track of each animal. This will go a long way in mitigating human-elephant conflict,” he added.
On Wednesday, the forest department had shot dead an elephant in Beliatore forests of Bankura, inviting sharp criticism. It had defended the move saying it was “left with no other option” but to kill the elephant after all attempts to capture the “rogue” tusker had “failed”.
In 2015-2016, while 108 people were killed and 95 injured in elephant attacks across Bengal, 14 tuskers were killed in retaliation. According to the department, while there are 16 “problem” elephants in south Bengal, permission to capture them was sought unsuccessfully in 2012.
In southwest Bengal, officials said, elephants are new entrants. While loss of habitat in Jharkhand and Odisha had forced elephants into Bengal, herds which would migrate to Dolma in Odisha have stayed on in the state longer than usual. “This was never a natural elephant habitat. They first came to southwest Bengal in 1987. Earlier, they would stay on for a maximum of four months, but now they have stayed on for almost 10 months. The area isn’t even suitable for elephant habitation. There are sal trees here that elephants don’t consume,” said Principal Secretary (Forest) Chandan Sinha.
The situation has worsened of late with trenches and electric wires being installed in Odisha that prevents elephants from travelling across their natural migratory path. “We have spoken to the Odisha government about the trenches dug on its border that connect the elephant’s migratory route into Bengal,” said Sinha.
Forest officials said Odisha farmers, pressured by increased cases of crop raids, had created the trenches that prevent elephants from crossing to the state from Bengal. “Consequently, they are trapped in Bengal and the area here has no natural food for them, So, they turn to crop raiding and enter human habitations,” said an official.
In Bankura alone, around 80 such elephants have reportedly settled down. Unlike north and south Bengal — the traditional elephant habitats in the state — the forest here is extremely fragmented. Large-scale felling of forested land had made way for fields, habitation and villages. The result: Bankura accounts for almost half the human deaths due to elephant-human conflict. Of the 71 deaths reported from southwest Bengal since April last year, 35 were in Bankura.
Experts, meanwhile, have pressed for long-term mitigation measures.
“Killing an elephant will not necessarily mitigate the problem of human-elephant conflict. Elephants require large forests and considerable amount of food. Or else, they are forced to enter human habitation. Long-term mitigation strategies need to take this into account,” said Varun Goswami, elephant programme leader of Wildlife Conservation Society.