Wildlife activists and ecologists have voiced concern over the growing loss of elephant habitat in mineral-rich Keonjhar district as World Elephant Day was observed across the globe Friday. According to a report, the gentle giants have suffered hugely in the last 16 years with 98 deaths.
Major factors responsible for the dwindling of elephant population in the district include rampant illegal mining, rapid deforestation, growing industrialization and urbanization. With their natural corridors lying in tatters, the jumbos most often stray out of their habitat into human habitations, leading to a spate of man-animal conflicts.
Such incidents are now increasing in frequency in most parts of Keonjhar district, wildlife activists said.
For various reasons including poaching, electrocution and train accidents, 98 pachyderms have died in the district in the last 16 years while over 200 people were killed by the animals.
Official sources said the district reported eight elephant casualties in 2001-02 while the figure rose to 12 in 2002-03 and 2004-05.
However, their casualties came down to three in 2005-06, but went up to six in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Eight elephants died in 2008-09; four in 2009-10; nine deaths were reported in 2010-11.
The casualties came down to four in 2011-12, but climbed to eight in 2012-13 while four deaths were recorded in 2013-14, and in 2015-16 till date, six jumbo have died.
In view of growing casualties, the wildlife activists observed that the elephant habitats need to be protected. Shortage of fodder and water in forests has severely affected the animals, which often force them to wander into villages where they cause mayhem and damage houses and crops. Such incidents are being reported frequently from all forested pockets.
The forest department has been provided crores of rupees for the protection of animals, but their casualties have not been checked in the district.
The forest department had identified two elephant corridors—Karo-Karpada and Telkoi-Pallahada. But the corridors have not been protected and are being slowly encroached, it is alleged.
The district has 3,097.18 sq/km of forest, which is 37 per cent of the total geographical area of the district.
As many as 110 mines are located in the district while Joda and Barbil mining areas alone account for 80 mines — all in forest areas. Joda and Barbil mining areas, which share borders with neighbouring Sundargarh district and Jharkhand state, are shelters for elephants. Only five per cent of these two areas are densely forested while the remaining areas are under various mining companies.
According to forest officials, the dense hilly forest cover which prevailed in the areas has exponentially declined. In the absence of green cover, elephants have to stray into human settlements.
It many noted here that, there was a proposal to include Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Angul and Dhenkanal under the Baitarani elephant conservation project. However, it is yet to be executed.