Not just cows, even elephants eat the rubbish you leave behind (Tamil Nadu, India)


Sam Paul A, The New Indian Express

Date Published

The recent image of hungry elephants rummaging in a garbage heap near
Gudalur in Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu struck a raw nerve among

However, it was not the first such case spotted. In March 2016, Kerala
forest officials found 50 plastic bags and a couple of cigarette
lighters in the digestive tract of a dead elephant in the Malayatoor
forest. It had eaten plastic waste left behind by tourists.

Human-elephant conflicts (HEC) are no longer just a matter between
forest-dwelling villagers and the pachyderms. A number of
post-industrial human activities now intrude into the elephant
landscape. Tourist litter is just one of them.

You have roads butting into migration corridors, oustee resettlement
colonies, irrigation projects, R&R lodges for the corporate set, and
so on, each nibbling away at the forest and leaving it in tattered
ribbons of green here and there. After a ride along the mist-covered
Gudalur-Pandalur road, we stop at a place surrounded by tea
plantations. “The place where you are standing was once part of a
thick jungle until it was taken over by tea plantations. Today our
lives are entwined with tea cultivation. The local population is
dependent on it for livelihood,” Joseph, a septuagenarian local
resident, said to me.

At least a dozen big companies have tea plantations in Gudalur. Some
date back to the British era. Many of them have expanded, consuming
land in Tolstoyesque hunger. Less than 70 km from Pandalur is the
Banasura Sagar dam in Wayanad district. From the Vythiri-Tharuvana
road, it’s a spectacular sight against the Banasura hills in the
distance with islands poking up through the water. The project
satisfies the demand of the region but at a heavy cost. It has
degraded a vast landscape.

As Asia’s largest vertebrate, the elephant requires a lot of living
space to survive. It needs 200-250 kg of fodder and 150 litres of
water a day. That needs free unencumbered space to forage in. Recent
studies have identified at least 19 elephant corridors in Gudalur and
the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. But not one corridor is unbroken.
Elephants thus become confined to islands as their migratory routes
are cut off. Unable to mix with other herds, they run the risk of

Steady inroads into the elephant habitat have resulted in significant
loss and fragmentation of habitat across south India. In summer, the
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary plays host to herds from Karnataka and
Tamil Nadu which come there in search of rich diverse vegetation. The
sanctuary, spread over a relatively small area of 344 sq km, is
getting fragmented and unwelcoming to pachyderms. There are more than
100 settlements inside the sanctuary, some of them colonies of project

The implementation of the rail project will lead to large-scale
degradation and fragmentation of forests and loss of elephant