News of elephants visiting the city, or raiding a farm on the outskirts has become commonplace. While it’s easy to talk about man-elephant conflict, a timely book on Asian Elephants in the Bannerghatta National Park, based on a 10-year study, offers insights into what is really happening

It’s so true that we very often know so little of what’s in our backyard, and therefore, rarely value it. And so it may be with the Bannerghatta National Park (BNP), just 25 kilometres from Bangalore’s city centre. For many of us in the silicon city, specially those with kids, it’s a weekend getaway well spent seeing animals. What many of us may not know is that it’s one of the largest remaining habitats in India for Asian Elephants.

Of course, the Bannerghatta Biological Park is the front that we, as visitors, get to see. But the 26-kilometre long National Park in which it’s situated, is a far vast landscape. According to estimates in 2012, about 78 wild elephants thrive in a 104 square-km area; in 2007 there were 148. (We get to see the 14 elephants held in captivity in the Biological Park.)

In a collaborative project between the Karnataka state forest department, Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF), and A Rocha India, a group led by Surendra Varma, research scientist for ANCF’s Asian Elephant Research Programme has been studying the elephants of this park for over 10 years now. The ANCF was set up by India’s ‘elephant man’ Raman Sukumar, considered the world’s foremost expert on the Asian Elephant.

The recently released co-authored book Science of Elephants in Silicon City takes the best of a treasure trove of 11,000 photographs accumulated over a decade as part of the study, and important pointers from the scientific study to offer a reader-friendly book. A pictorial book coming from an academic group is a rarity. “Yes,” laughs Varma. “We tend to live in an academic world and we begin to enjoy our own voice otherwise…” But on a more serious note, he says its one of the few projects in the country where a state forest department, NGOs, volunteers have come together to participate in studying the wild Asian Elephant, counting and classifying jumbos, tracking the 140-km long periphery and checking for breaches, interacting with farmers in villages surrounding the BNP, setting up natural barriers between forest and farm land, mitigating man-animal conflict. “We wanted to draw public attention to these issues.”

With almost everyday news of man-elephant conflict drawing our attention to the need for a solution, the book is also timely in taking a look at what causes this situation, and illustrating how such conflicts can be contained through some simple initiatives, like the ones around BNP. The forest lands are getting fragmented, and with Bangalore growing rapidly, it’s literally growing into the National Park! If elephants, are pushing boundaries, it’s because we are too, leaving very little space and food for these large herbivores.

September to January is when the maximum man-elephant encounters happen around BNP, because it’s the peak harvesting season for ragi, sugarcane, banana, and paddy that is grown in farmland around BNP. There are about 117 villages around BNP within a distance of five kilometres from the boundary, which are affected by this elephant movement, but 34 villages are the most intensely affected, says Varma. Many of these villagers have been able to save their crops with a simple technique that keeps elephants away and doesn’t harm them — apparently elephants just hate the smell of chilli powder! So Varma’s team of volunteers helps put up a rope around farms, smeared in used engine oil, tobacco and chilli powder — a success story learnt from Africa.

The book allows us a glimpse into the beauty of the landscape of the National Park, the biological diversity of its plants and animals, as well as the destruction that arises from conflict with humans. “It’s also important to know and understand how farmers feel about these elephants… In NE India there have been instances where they call them ‘thief’ ‘Bin Laden’ when elephants have invaded crops and have been shot down,” points our Varma. The book also uses a whole lot of maps, graphs, pie-charts to simplify the decade-long study for the common man. There’s also a detailed section on involvement of volunteers, the forest department, NGOs, in working together for the cause of elephant conservation; over 500 volunteers have been trained to date.

For pricing and copies of the book, authored by Varma, with Nishant M.S., Gopala Krishna, Avinash Krishnan and Padmamala Rajagopalan, contact 94483-70080 or 65324384.