We’re the elephants in their room! (India)


MG Chetan & Aknisree Karthik, Deccan Chronicle

Date Published

See link for photo & infographics.

With their habitats shrinking, its not unusual anymore to find leopards, elephants and other wild animals straying into villages and even wandering close to fringes of towns and cities, striking fear into villagers, motorists and pedestrians.  

While not all straying wild animals turn violent, Sunday saw two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans meet a gruesome death as a wild elephant trampled them to death at the CRPF Training Camp in Tharalu village near Kaggalipura, off Kanakapura Road.

Surprisingly, the CRPF men, who are rigorously trained to handle difficult situations, including animal attacks, failed to act when attacked by the jumbo.

The camp authorities themselves seem at a loss to understand why the two sentries did not scare the elephant away. Says DIG, Group Centre, CRPF, Rajendran J,  “The incident was totally unexpected and it all happened in a fraction of a second. We have ordered a departmental inquiry to see what exactly took place. Forest officials say the elephant was not from the Bannerghatta National Park, but came from elsewhere. We are working on plans to avert such incidents in future.”

Ask him if the sentries been told not to open fire at wild animals and Mr. Rajendran replies in the negative. “Self defence is most important and so we  have given no such instruction not to open fire at animals. It’s not clear why they did not act and we are looking into it,” he explains.

The CRPF officials, who claim the camp is secure as it has solar fencing and trenches dug around it to prevent wild animals from straying into it, say this is the first time an animal has wandered in.  But others say animals have strayed close to the camp many times in the past as it is situated close to the Bannerghatta National Park.

A retired CRPF Inspector General of Police, K. Arkesh, argues the officials cannot call the incident unexpected as the camp is located close to a forest. “The CRPF men are highly trained and cannot say the incident was unexpected as the camp is near the Bannerghatta forest. Also, to my knowledge, this is not the first such incident and animals have strayed into the area many times in the past. Considering this, the camp staff needs to be alert round- the- clock. Also, the men were on sentry duty, which means they were armed. They could have shot at the elephant or even opened fire in the air to scare the animal away. Unfortunately they did neither,” he notes.

Mr Arkesh reveals that opposition by some vested interests to the  CRPF camp coming up in the area, had stopped it from taking the necessary safety measures in the past. “But now everything has been sorted out and there is no such hindrance,” he adds.

June 2013
A herd of 15 wild elephants made their way through Kolar and Hoskote from the Hosur forest region in Tamil Nadu, killing four people.
June 2015
A wild elephant went on a rampage near Bannerghatta and killed a female worker.
September 2016
Three wild elephants have strayed into Karnataka from Krishnagiri forest in Tamil Nadu. The residents of villages in Anekal and Hoskote taluk panicked as their agricultural fields were damaged.

Following the death of its two men, the CRPF Training Camp in Tharalu village near Kaggalipura, off Kanakapura Road, plans to install an alarm system  to alert the staff to any animal nearing it, according to  DIG, Group Centre, CRPF, Rajendran J. Also, the CRPF and forest department officials have decided to hold a workshop for the staff to educate them on how to tackle animal attacks.

‘Planners should consult wildlife experts’

It’s no secret that elephant corridors have over the years been increasingly fragmented by human settlements and developmental projects. While villages with their increasing spread of agricultural land have wreaked havoc in some parts, the insensitivity of urban planners has destroyed parts of the corridors in others, leaving the animals confused and with little option but to stray into human settlements.  

Pointing out that a city’s development is usually planned, a senior forest official says its time the planners consulted wildlife experts when preparing the blueprints to identify elephant corridors that should be left undisturbed no matter what.

“When the elephants’ corridors are blocked they are tempted to move into human habitations, placing both their lives and those of people at risk.  So it’s essential that they are left undisturbed,” he stresses.

As for the Kaggalipura elephant attack, which claimed the lives of two CRPF jawans, the officer says such incidents should be analysed in depth as sometimes the reasons which trigger an elephant to stray outside a forest may not be fully understood.

“Also, it’s important to raise awareness about the environment and wildlife   among government officials and villagers living on the fringes of forests as only then will they be more sensitive to them,” he underlines.

‘Govt officials need basic knowledge of the environment’

Elephants are always on the move and cover about 50 miles a day in search of food and water. It may surprise many to know that many decades ago, an elephant corridor stretched from Bannerghatta in Bengaluru to Burma (the present Myanmar). But owing to the greed of humans forests were encroached on and exploited, shrinking the elephants’ habitat and reducing their tree cover.

But neither politicians nor bureaucrats care to understand how hugely elephant habitats have been disturbed or take measures to contain the damage done. While laying new roads or ducts, building bridges and so on, engineers and officials should have been sensitive to the needs of animals and the ecology as a whole, as areas, which should have been swamps or ponds for providing water for wild animals are being destroyed to make way for them.

Basic knowledge about the environment should be imparted to government officials and engineers to help prevent damage to animal habitats in future.

The incident of two CRPF jawans being trampled on by an elephant is very unfortunate. Going by media reports the elephant, which killed them, is a loner and is suspected to be from the Savandurga forests.

Possible reasons for its agitated state could be that it had lost its way and ended up straying into the CRPF training centre at Kaggalipura on Kanakapura Road.  It may have strayed from its usual corridor in search of food and water and could have been in a hurry to rejoin its group.  

Had the  CRPF jawans had some knowledge about the environment, including the behaviour of animals, how they procure food, their way of living and so on,  they may have escaped being trampled on. Environmental awareness is needed by all, from children to adults and some serious steps need to be taken by the government to create it.

-Suresh Heblikar, (The author is environmentalist, filmmaker and founder of Eco-Watch NGO )