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As part of the waterhole count conducted on the last day of the census, volunteers and resource personnel sit near a water hole, waiting for the elephants to assemble at the spot. While the sight of an elephant herd was a source of great delight for volunteers, Madappa M, a farmer of Hosa Birwalu village in HD Kote taluk, less than a kilometre from the park, watched them pass with trepidation. Madappa and members of his family fervently hope not to see any elephants, particularly near their fields where they have sown cotton.
Madappa said that the elephants trampled on the crops within two months of the seeds being sown. “Elephants invading our fields is not new to us. But the problem has become serious over the years. They used to come into the fields once in a while, and feed on crops such as paddy and sugarcane. Lately, they don’t spare any crops,” Madappa added. Farmers living and working in villages on the periphery of Bandipur National Park share Madappa’s concerns. As the three-day census operation came to an end on Friday, the threat that the tuskers posed to the livelihood of the farmers gave the volunteers much to ponder about. Tackling the human elephant conflict has become a huge challenge for the forest department.
While farmers in HD Kote taluk have traditionally cultivated paddy and sugarcane, they have started growing crops such as tomato, chilly, cauliflower and cotton in the recent years.
Mallesha N of Badagalapura, another village lying close to the forest boundary, has tried several measures – from erecting a solar fence to changing the crop pattern – to keep elephants at bay. Blaming the forest department for its failure to restrict elephant movement, he said,”They don’t allow us to graze our cattle inside the forest. They better keep the wild animals inside the woods.”