Elephants - human conflict, India - a brief note

Jumbo crossing. Calicut- Kollegal NH at Muthangn. deccanchronicle.com

human - elephant conflict, India. newsblaze.com

Trained elephants have been  part of  Indian  social and  religious culture as they are closely associated with Hindu temples' rituals, etc. It is also widely used in lumber industries based in Kerala, Assam and other states where there are large jungles. Important temples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu have an elephant or more than one and many of them are donated to the temples by the devotees. They are mostly well-behaved and have been trained to accept donation and then bless the  nervous devotees by putting their trunk mildly on their head.  Besides, temple elephants carry  the deity  on their back in the procession during festival times.  A distinctive feature in the state of Kerala is, in most of the festivals one will not miss to see  a few or more than 10  richly caparisoned elephants, with bells around their neck, etc as part of the procession. For the children and others it is a great entertainment, watching a huge animal obeying orders from the Mahout who can be crushed to death  by him in a jiff.

The trench being dug to prevent entry of elephants  thehindu.com

Above image:  Forest officials inspecting the trench being dug to prevent entry of elephants into villages, in Koundinya wildlife sanctuary near V. Kota in Chittoor district, Andhra

However, it is reported,  in states like  Kerala, there has been an alarming rise of man-elephant conflicts primarily because of maltreatment of the big animals by the irresponsible Mahouts. If the Mahouts have a drinking problem, public safety will be in jeopardy.  In a span of 12 years between 1998 and 2010 in Kerala alone, 212 people were killed, mostly  due to Mahouts because the elephants could not take any more of brutality. Fatal mishaps have become threat to public life.

In many states, human habitats near wooded areas  have become scenes of increasing human-elephant conflicts. People living in the fringe areas of forests are in a state of constant fear and threats for several years and many get killed by wild elephants for different reasons. Between 2014 and 2015 as many as 413 people and 72 elephants died, because  such human-elephant conflicts  are propelled by  population growth, expansion of agriculture lands and urban areas which, in turn, impact on the animal habitats which show singns of shrinking  as days go by without a viable solution in sight. Shrinking habitats, loss of food, etc are the main reasons that force the animals to move out of their home  in search of food, etc. West Bengal state reported the highest number of death at 89, followed by Assam at 54 a few years ago. 

Solar fencing to deter elphants, tamil nadu. indiamart.com

Chilliy and elephant. arbroath.blogspot.com

In the case of Assam in NE India, during the annual  Brahmaputra river flooding (June -July), the confrontation between elephants and humans escalates to a dangerous level.  For example Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site about 55 miles away, and between a forested hill and the Nambor-Doigurung Wildlife Sanctuary during the floods, more than 1800 elephants move out of the park, in search of food as  the park becomes drenched during the monsoon season. The elephants  move along certain corridors in herds and the villages, in their line of path, take the fury when the rampaging  elephants are hungry, looking for something to crush and munch.. 

The wild Trust of India (WTI) who are trying to resolve this menacing problem caused by wild elephants is working hard to secure such  elephant corridors, along which the pachyderms move, in Assam, Megalaya, Kerala and Karnataka to reduce the threats and damages by way of relocation of villages, community participation, land purchase, early  warning of elephant raids, etc.  Relocation of an entire village is a difficult task and in some places it does work well. In the next decade their target is 100 elephant corridors across India to reduce the conflict between pachyderms and people. 

In the agricultural areas near the forests, the farmers across India face similar threats. Elephants barge into the farm lands and sometimes into the villages and leave behind a trail of chaos, destruction and damages. Crop losses run into crores of rupees. Farm lands are raided by elephants, not withstanding several safe guards followed by the farm owners such as elephant prevention trenches (EPT), chilly fences, solar powered electric fences with warning system, etc. In Kerala, farmers follow a different, but effective method. They raise beehives on their properties to scare the raiding elephants. In villages around Madukkari, many elephants know how to get past the solar fence. Sounding of siren near Kittampalayam village would warn the owner that his farm was being raided by the elephants to feast on the mouth-watering bananas!!

West Dean College

Above image:  In North Eastern India and parts of Africa, chilies are smeared on fences and around boundaries in order to ward off nosey Elephants.
In order to deter  elephants from raiding crops, farms and homesteads  besides  boosting  agricultural resilience,  farmers in Africa and elsewhere  raise crops.  Using of chili peppers are cost-effective solution. When  mixed with rice husks or cow dung and burned, the chili’s pungent smell repels most wildlife, including elephants. Chili has the same effect when mixed with oil and smeared on strings or rugs hung on garden edges or in the main  gardens; so farmers can increase their productivity and income because of reduced elephant raids............................... 

Many small towns in Tamil Nadu  close to the wild animal habitats witness the human - elephant conflict, as in other states. Among the town in Tamil Nadu which has well-known elephant sanctuaries, the Coimbatore Forest Division covering   693 sq. km area,  has the highest incidence of human-elephant conflict in this state and, in the last 20 years, 100 people lost their lives on account of elephant raids and 24 elephants were electrocuted.

Besides facing  depredation of their crops by the elephants, people  frequently face threats from  smaller animals like wild boars and ungulates and occasionally leopards. Consequently  ever increasing number of people are getting nightmares and restless about elephants and other wild animals trespassing their agricultural lands and getting ever closer to them and their families.  It means loss of income, struggle to go to  work on their farms.

 Distribution of elephants in southern India ces.iisc.ernet.in

The  Project Elephant, the Ministry of Environment and Forests' elephant-affairs body observed  that there are two  kinds of land allotted for elephants. National park and sanctuary constitute 22% of elephant territory that gets better protection. The rest forms another kind that includes  reserve lands, revenue lands and private forests. These are highly exploited lands and majority of elephants live in these  useless areas. In many states, the loss of elephant habitat is very much. In Assam it is way high  - 65% since 1972. Elephants that migrate to different places in the summer and in the winter  choose their home range based on quality of the terrain, forage and plenty of water. They are quite sensitive to their food requirements. If the number of herds swells and if the habitat is not sustainable, they lose their home but try to stay very much there  but  raid the neighboring places every now and then for additional food, etc when they have pangs of hunger. Each elephant needs at least  230 plus kg plus of food a day. To make up the shortage, they risk crossing the high ways, human settlements, water bodies and even railroad tracks. etc.,  to reach for crops and grains. An elephant may live up to 50 years, when their habitat shrinks, they try to stay there and adjust to a new situation. They know where to go and when to look for food and they have learned the survival instinct since young.  Their life is dependent on their habitat  and try to take risk, covering highways and train tracks to cover their home range. If there are human settlements in their home range, they use the cover of darkness to get the food and water. The extent of their home range is determined by the availability of water and food. This frequently results in their raiding nearby farms. Yet another problem is poaching. As some poachers kill them for tusks,  they are stressed when they reach the villages for food that results in confrontation with humans who equally need their grains for food and income. The elephant- human conflict is artificially created by the humans for their selfish needs. The end result is both elephants and human beings are suffering.


Drunk elephants:

In the State of Meghalaya in NE India, the villagers of  Dumurkota have altogether different problems that may sound funny. Here. the pachyderms raid the villages and shops for different reasons. They are not looking for fresh food and vegetables to eat them to their heart's content. Nor do they raid places close-by, looking for water holes. Then, what are they up to? They are frantically looking for an alcoholic brew to feel high, perhaps, to burp up their frustration. How come they have picked up this  bad social habit of  humans?  These villagers  have a tradition to  enjoy and relax over a glass of local  country brew called Mahua (brew made from Mahua plants) which, it is said, gives the needed kick.

drunk elephant with two drunks. www.wpclipart.com

Feeling high, drunk elephant of Mahua.huffingtonpost.com

The local brew gives out such a strong and  tempting smell, the  nosy herds, living in the near-by forest  have  been drawn out of their habitat and  they go straight  after the shops, houses, etc where the brew is stored and from where the nice smell is emanating. In 2012 the Times of India newspaper reported that 50 drunk pachyderms gulped down whooping 500 liters of alcohol stored in a shop. Subsequently,  the  raids by the jumbos were frequent and they became habitual drinkers and liked to have  hangover following day!! As for villagers, to enjoy their alcoholic brew Mahua, they had  to move out to some place where there were no wild animals, not even monkeys. The villagers not only have lost their sleep for a strange reason but also are  unable to sip their tempting  Mahua brew  that makes the stressed pachyderms come in groups  to get soaked and be sober and tardy!!