To protect the habitat of free-roaming elephants and prevent crop damage at Sindhudurg and Kolhapur farmlands, the state forest department is mulling over building the state’s first elephant conservation reserve at the Tilarri river backwaters, Sindhudurg by next year.
The divisional forest department, in consultation with the guardian minister of Sindhudurg, submitted a proposal to forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar earlier this year. “We are considering the proposal and as per the provisions mentioned by the Minister of State (Mos) for Home (Urban), we will proceed with it,” said Mungantiwar.
According to officials from the Sindhudurg forest department, seven of the 24 elephants that entered Maharashtra from Karnataka during the 2002 drought stayed behind and currently frequent farmlands between Sindhudurg and Kolhapur in search of food.
“Sindhudurg is a horticultural district and elephants are responsible for a lot of crop damage, the expenses of which cannot be incurred by farmers,” said Deepak Kesarkar, guardian minister of Sindhudurg and MoS Home (Urban). “We can either to drive them back to Karnataka or convert a densely forested area, located close to the Tillari Dam, to protect their habitat.”
Kesarkar added that the area, spanning several hectares between Sindhudurg and Kolhapur, was chosen due to its sparse human habitation.
“Predominantly a hilly terrain, the area is not a natural habitat for elephants, so we will work towards making it suitable for them. There are five elephants there currently, and a survey is underway to map the area,” he said, adding that the plan is to restrict their movement by digging trenches and building fences around nearby villages such as Ghotawade in Kolhapur and Hiwale in Sindhudurg.
Local forest officers said the site has copious amounts of paddy, coconut, cashew, banana, rice and bamboo — an attractive buffet for elephants. “The habitat will help increase their population and keep human-elephant conflicts at bay. On an average, a farmer that sells a quintal of rice for Rs 1500 to 2000 incurs crop damage worth Rs25,000 owing to elephants passing through their farms,” said a forest official from Sindhudurg.
Experts said this move would help increase the state’s elephant count. “With access to enough food and water, the area, planned as a conservation reserve, will not only house elephants but other animals as well. Since human-elephant conflicts will be mitigated, the forest department along with locals can ensure strict vigilance,” said Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of forest, Pune.
Elephants are categorised as ‘endangered’ species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and are protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Destruction and degradation of elephant habitat driven by an escalating human population is the main reason for a drop in their count across the country. Increasing conflicts between humans and elephants when elephants eat or trample their crops also poses a major threat to the species.
Did you know?
Every day, a single elephant requires over 200 kilograms of food comprising hay, foliage and an equal volume of water. The animal is accustomed to rolling around in mud or sludge to decrease its body temperature during the summer as they do not have sweat glands.