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Dozens of elephants, tigers, sloth bears, monkeys and flamingos are being electrocuted in India’s farmlands, plantations, around human settlements near and inside forests, as they come in contact with poorly maintained power lines and electric wires.
While there are guidelines to keep animals straying out of their shrinking habitats safe, wildlife researchers said they are not properly implemented.
For instance, last week, a family of four elephants was electrocuted by a low-hanging power line in a coffee plantation in Karnataka’s Kodagu district.
A probe showed that contrary to a Karnataka HC order, the power line was less than 9m from the ground. This was not an isolated case. Data from Delhi-based NGO Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) show 355 elephants across the country died from deliberate and accidental electrocution between 2010 and 2016 — 62 of these deaths took place in 2016 alone. The list identifies flamingos as the second largest casualty of animal electrocution, at 181, followed by leopards and peacocks at 64 deaths each over six years.
Researchers said animals were more at risk now, as the Centre is sanctioning development projects in protected wildlife territories.
Animals are being forced out of their natural habitat and this is leading to man-animal conflict situations or death owing to man-made activities, the researchers said.
“We have observed three main types of electrocution deaths,” said Tito Joseph, the programme coordinator at WPSI.
“The first is accidental electrocution, taking place in the absence of proper maintenance of electric lines passing through protected forest areas. The second, deliberate electrocution by poachers who lay wires to kill animals. Lastly, there is the issue of man-animal conflict, where animals trespass into farms close to forest areas that farmers protect with high-voltage electric fences,” Joseph said.
Most of these fences are illegal. In April this year, a year after the iconic tiger Jai went missing, his son Srinivas was found dead in the Nagbhid forest range in Maharashtra. The tiger had been electrocuted by an illegal fence set up a local farmer. The probe found the farmer buried the tiger’s body to hide the crime; he was prosecuted later.
The WPSI study identified 19 tigers, 17 sloth bears, 11 lions and animals such as Nilgais, deer, wild boars, cranes, the Great Indian Bustard and langurs have all fallen prey to these high-tension wires, that too within their own habitat, over six years.
The maximum electrocution cases in India of animals such as elephants, tigers, lions, sloth bear, deer and bird species, were seen in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarkhand, WPSI found.
Flamingo and leopard deaths were most in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
With many of these animals being endangered, wildlife experts said much larger mitigation measures rather than basic guidelines were needed to reduce such deaths. “The central and state governments need to tie up with research institutions, like an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), to come up with advanced technology measures, and develop transmission lines that animals can spot,” said Vidya Athreya, a wildlife biologist.
In October last year, the Union environment ministry issued guidelines to avoid animal deaths from to electrocution by power transmission lines. It read:?“To prevent death of animals like elephant in the forest areas due to electrocution by distribution lines, in the forest area the distribution companies shall preferably use ABC or underground cable.” But Joseph from WPSI pointed out that these rules are poorly implemented.
“All these rules are only on paper. Nobody knows what is actually happening in India’s dense forest areas. Barring pressure from courts, the power distribution companies are waiting for accidents to happen before taking measures such as removing low-hanging wires or even general maintenance of power lines,” he said.
“As far as poaching is concerned, the forest department and electricity suppliers need to prosecute poachers for tapping or dripping electricity illegally and after establishing the cause of death of the animal, ensure the accused is prosecuted under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. But these incidents are going neglected and are not being investigated, giving violators more confidence to carry out their operations,” Joseph said.
Officials from the Union environment ministry said after the death of the four elephants in Karnataka, electricity distribution companies, both private and public, have been asked to inspect lines running through forest areas.
“We have issued strict guidelines to states to ensure such cases don’t repeat. We have also asked for a report from the Karnataka forest department regarding the incident,” said senior official from environment ministry.
“All states have been asked to file individual reports and submit them to state electrical inspectors after a detailed survey of problem areas. The inspector is directed to compile an investigation report and sort out all issues within three months time,” the official said.