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A new regional plan to tackle human-elephant conflict in eastern and central India has proposed a number of strategic measures, from creating “elephant removal zones” to relocating or even holding captive “problem” elephants that roam on agricultural land. In 2016-17, this region reported at least 253 deaths of people, the highest in the country related to this conflict, with crops being destroyed and livelihoods affected.
The strategic plan was discussed at a meeting Wednesday of wildlife wardens from five states in this region — Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal — as a first step towards better inter-state coordination to tackle over 3,000 elephants in the zone. Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have also developed apps that track the elephant populations.
Bengaluru-based elephant expert Raman Sukumar, who is involved in drafting the regional plan, told The Indian Express that the broad approach was to adopt guidelines approved by the Karnataka High Court in 2010.
“This plan divides zoning habitats into three zones: areas with large forest cover that are relatively intact where elephants can be conserved, creating elephant-human co-existence zones which will serve as an interface between human settlements and elephants, and elephant removal zones in agricultural areas. These are areas where elephants have now moved in, resulting in increasing conflict. The plan will be to capture the elephants and relocate them to other forest areas which are intact, but if that fails, maybe keep some of the elephants under captivity. The different states have to take a call on this,” said Sukumar, a professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc.
Sukumar pointed out that the region has in the last two-three decades seen an increasing dispersal of elephants out of forest areas and a “range expansion”.
“For instance, elephants walked into South Bengal only after the 1980s. In the last 10-15 years, they entered Chhattisgarh, an area where there were no elephants since the Mughal period. In Odisha, elephants which were concentrated in 12-14 districts now roam in at least 30 districts,” he said.
Further, officials are also looking at capacity-building on the ground by training forest officials on how to tranquilise elephants and capture them. “Recently, an elephant was chased from Bihar into Jharkhand. It was shot after it had killed more than 10 people,” said Sukumar.
R K Srivastava, director, Project Elephant, said this region had 10 per cent of the elephant population but accounted for over 50 per cent of deaths due to human-elephant conflict in the country.
“The reason is due to destruction of habitat so the elephants are constantly on the move. On the ground, farmers have tried to stop elephants by digging trenches, and have tried to guard their crops using chilli, grease or motor oil and have even tied ropes around the area. All these might save 30-40 per cent of the crops but that is not good enough,” he said.
Project Elephant was launched by the central government in 1992 to protect elephants, their habitat and corridors, and address issues of man-animal conflict.