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The incident had occurred around 10 pm on Saturday near Honkaravalli in Hassan district’s Sakleshpur taluk and the victim has been identified as Arun Kumar (aged around 40 years), a resident of Haidur village in Alur taluk. This is the fourth human death caused by elephants in Sakleshpur region in the last one month.
Forest minister B Ramanath Rai told the legislative Assembly on Tuesday: “A herd of six to seven elephants had huddled around a female elephant as it was giving birth to a calf. Since this was happening by the roadside several motorists had stopped to watch the spectacle. Arun Kumar, who had got off his vehicle, was filming the baby birth on his mobile phone when one of the elephants charged at him, picked him with its trunk and threw him on the ground.”
Following this, forest department officials shifted Kumar to a hospital in Sakleshpur. But since Kumar’s condition was critical he was moved to Hassan district hospital, where he succumbed to the injuries in the wee hours of Sunday. Angered by Kumar’s death, his relatives staged a protest against the forest department. Hassan district in-charge minister A Manju and Sakleshpur MLA H K Kumaraswamy visited the spot and pacified the protestors. A compensation of Rs 5 lakh was ordered; of which Rs 2 lakh was paid immediately.
According to sources, the elephants in the herd were getting restless as the labour progress and started closing in for a shoulder-to-shoulder formation to protect the mother and the new-born. But what irked the elephants were the presence of human beings and the lights from their mobile phones. “Though Kumar had initially told the crowd to behave well and ensure that the elephants do not feel threatened, he had moved a bit close to the herd,” sources added.
Kumar’s death has brought back the focus on elephant-man conflict in Hassan district. Raising the issue in the assembly, Sakleshpur MLA Kumaraswamy sought to know the permanent steps being taken by the government to end the elephant problem in the district.
Kumaraswamy later told The Times of India: “The elephant problem had come under control in 2013-14 when 22 elephants were captured from Hassan district and relocated in other parts of the state by the forest department. However, the elephant population has again increased and their numbers have now touched over 40. Not only are crops being damaged but people are also getting killed or attacked by elephants. The threat is so high that people have stopped cultivating crops in the region fearing destruction by the elephants. We want the government to come out with concrete solutions to reduce the elephant-man conflict.”
Forest minister Rai said the government had initiated the process of acquiring 3,143 acres of land from seven villages in Hethur hobli, alongside the Western Ghats, at a cost of Rs 272 crore for establishing the elephant corridor. “Since the state does not have so much funds, we have requested the Centre to sanction Rs 272 crore under Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management Authority (CAMPA) to save elephants. The Centre’s reply on the issue is yet to come.”