Elephants in the backyard (India)


Meera Bhardwaj, New Indian Express

Date Published

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BENGALURU: The death of Sidda, a male elephant, jolted the wildlife conservationists and the public this November. Its struggle brought the focus back on the state’s failure to protect the single contiguous elephant landscape in the south and south-west of the state.
If this year has seen these gentle giants falling victims to conversion of land patterns and gradual takeover of their corridors, it has also seen their capture and relocation to already crowded protected areas.

Sidda, the 35-year-old wild elephant who was rescued by the army last month after his leg broke on being chased by villagers, died this month. For over three months, he had battled pain and suffering bravely. He had broken his right forelimb after falling into a ditch near Dodderi and was stranded in the slushy water.  Sidda finally succumbed to  multiple ailments near the backwaters of Manchanabele dam, where it was undergoing treatment for long.
His death demonstrates official apathy to the problems faced by dominant male elephants when they move out of the herds. If Sidda was rescued to die later as help arrived too little too late, two other tuskers died because there was nobody to rescue them. December alone saw the death of four elephants, unprecedented in Karnataka.

With incidents of crop raids by elephants rising, be it in Bengaluru Rural, Tumakuru, Mysuru, Ramanagara, Chamrajnagara, Mandya, Hassan or Chikkamagaluru, the forest department has ended up paying hefty compensation ranging from `20 to 80 lakh per year.  This year, four deaths were reported due to villagers- tuskers clash.

Short-term solutions fail

Following rising public anger and legislators putting pressure, the forest department resorted to short-term solutions like capturing and relocating the elephants. However, this has not solved the problem. In Hassan district,  while 23 elephants from Alur were relocated, 35 have taken their place now. Similarly, as two elephants were captured in Bengaluru Rural and relocated to Bandipur, another three were seen in the same forest region, where one of them moved away to Ganganapura village in Nelamangala taluk and a youth who got caught in its path died.

Wildlife experts say that as the forest department’s solutions are ad hoc, the problem continues year after year. For Karnataka, which harbours the largest population of Asian elephants (one-fifth of the country’s estimated 30,000), the problem is enormous. The elephant landscape which is contiguous with Tamil Nadu and Kerala is fragmented by human settlements, agricultural fields, roads, highways, railway line, hydel projects among others.
Rising conflicts

Facing man-elephant conflicts, the state has seen incidents on both the fronts –  where the forest-agriculture interface of elephants exists (Chamarajnagara, Kodagu) and the other where dispersing groups of elephants or solitary bulls (Bengaluru Rural, Urban, Ramanagara, Tumakuru) have entered villages and fields and raided crops.  The pressures of urbanisation have taken a toll on the integrity of elephant landscape, says an elephant expert.

Further, the habitat loss has led to elephants developing a habitual liking for agricultural and horticultural crops like sugarcane, maize, banana and coconut, says a forest official.
“In the last few years, we have seen solitary males and groups of bull elephants raiding fruit orchards in Bengaluru and Ramanagara divisions frequently. And this has brought them in direct conflict with people, who have lost their crops year after year. Further, many habitats in the elephant home ranges are today agricultural lands. But for the herds, they are still their habitats,” the official says.

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