The man-animal conflict in Sundargarh district seems to be never ending. It is during this time of the year that the problem becomes alarming owing to the fruiting of paddy and other crops, the smell of which attracts the jumbos.
What has left the forest officials and villagers worried is that elephants have undergone a drastic change in their food habit and they no longer feel uncomfortable with human presence.
Elephant herds are crossing the district during night and enter villages in search of food. During day time, they hide in forests located close to human habitations.
On Monday, an elderly villager, Petrus Hansdah of Lahandabud village under Sadar range of Sundargarh forest division, was killed in elephant attack when he went to the forest. On August 24, a four-year-old girl was trapped dead after an elephant attacked her mud house for food in Bargaon range of the forest division. A week back, a sub-adult elephant had forced its way into a mud house and later died of accidental poisoning after consuming urea and pesticide granules in Banki range of Rourkela forest division (RFD) and Sundargarh forest division (SFD).
Sources said from April onwards, the district has reported four human deaths, including two each from Rourkela forest division and SFD. In 2015-16, the district had reported 22 human casualties with the RFD alone accounting for 12, while the rest two forest divisions reported five deaths each.
The Forest department’s experiment with all available options to curb elephant depredation using chilly-based techniques, elephant trench and creation of artificial water bodies was partially successful. The West-North part of the Rourkela city, along river Koel, has been secured with solar fencing, but it would not be economically feasible for other vulnerable interior pockets of the vast Sundargarh district.
Rourkela DFO Sanjeet Kumar claimed creation of artificial water bodies in forests has resulted in 30 to 40 per cent curb in incidents of crop and house raids by the elephants, who spend most of the time near water bodies in summer.
Sundargarh DFO AK Mishra said disturbances in forests have destroyed the tranquil natural habitations of the elephants forcing them to enter human habitations.
He said elephants are clever animals and they have learnt the easiest way to raid and get different varieties of stored foods at village households and feast on soft standing crops. He said elephants are also able to smell presence of homemade alcoholic beverages at tribal households from a distance of 1 km.