The conflict between humans and animals refuses to die down. In the last six years, this problem has led to the death of 454 humans and 2,261 animals, including 388 elephants, according to a report by the forest department.
The issue has come to fore once again with recent reports of people in Malkangiri district of the state retreating to tree houses for fear of elephants after nearly 150 jumbos wreaked havoc in 15 blocks of tribal-dominated Mayurbhanj district in the last few days.
The forest department report pointed to poaching, poisoning, accidents and deliberate electrocution as the major reasons for the high numbers of elephant deaths.
The problem is not limited to elephants. In January 2011, an incident of a rare leopard being brutally beaten to death by villagers in Gandarpur village near Bhubaneswar, had been highlighted in the media. Olive Ridley turtles frequently fall prey to fishing trawlers in the Bay of Bengal.
The problem is complex. The rise in incidents of man-animal conflicts in recent years highlights the need for understanding the complexities of the problem and then using a multi-pronged approach to resolve it. Knee-jerk reactions or shortcut attempts at resolution will not work.
Forest fires, urbanisation and industrialisation, land encroachment and unscientific use of non-timber forest produce are rampant. Large chunks of forest land have also been diverted for mining.
Huge tracts have been taken up to build roads and railways, as well as to set up hydroelectric and irrigation projects and their canal systems. All this coupled with the increasing population of humans and livestock have been putting a strain on forests and natural resources.
This has led to a decline in forest density and forest cover and is driving wild animals, including elephants, to enter human habitats in search of food. It has led to more people and animals vying for the ever decreasing amount of natural resources.
Besides, roads, canals and railways are also barriers in the movement of large animals from one place to another. This has particularly affected jumbos, who are used to travelling long distances through elephant corridors, which are fast shrinking. It has also adversely affected the habitats of wild animals.
They are now forced to forage in human habitations. Elephant movement in Orissa is now reported from all over the state except for Kendrapara and Jagatsingpur. In contrast, not very long ago, elephants were seen in only 16 districts. This movement could be due to lack of adequate food and habitat to sustain the jumbos at one place.
This is a matter of grave concern as it results in crop damage, as well as destruction of property, which in turn leads to death of elephants and loss of human lives. It is essential for humans to understand that their survival also depends on coexistence.
One species cannot choose to live at the cost of the other as this is bound to have an adverse impact on our ecosystem. The rampant and indiscriminate use of natural resources by humans can only result in a drastic depletion in the number of wild animals and a consequent ecological disaster.
A detailed plan of action needs to be drawn up for Orissa with special focus on rebuilding elephant corridors and sustaining jumbo zones. Deliberate planting of trees that sustain elephants and new ways to reduce man-animal conflict like creating chilli-pepper natural barriers for elephants could be tried out.
The forest department which is often blamed for many lapses, needs a change in training and attitude. That, coupled with expert advice and plan of action from researchers, focused funding, sensitisation of villagers and enough push from the government, might bring the gentle giants back from the brink.