The Forest Department has decided to fix radio-collared telemeters on wild elephants for tracking their movement so as to avert man-animal conflicts that have, of late, become quite frequent, according to R. Sundararaju, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, Forest Department.

He told The Hindu that the imported device, costing a few lakhs, would be attached to the neck of the pachyderms, mostly leaders of the herds, by sedating them using darts. The process would start in a week.

The device would emit constant signals that would help track whereabouts of herds. If they were heading towards human habitations or farms the residents could be forewarned. The anti-depredation squad of the Forest Department would then follow standard procedures to chase the wild animals back into the forests.

They would usually be armed with firecrackers, fireballs and turmeric power. While firecrackers and fireballs scare away the animals, spraying of turmeric powder in the atmosphere would dull their olfactory senses. The elephants could smell fodder or foodstuff even 5 km away and would forge ahead towards the target unrelentingly, daring any hurdles on the way.

Trenches ruled out

Though digging of trenches on forest fringes was contemplated, it would be expensive, necessitating funding from Central and State governments. Moreover, the trenches ought to be quite deep and wide because elephants were intelligent enough to negotiate shallow trenches by devising a suitable strategy such as dumping soil or logs to get out of the pit.

Mr. Sundararaju averred that the Karnataka experiment of translocation of elephants had not yielded desired result. The elephants causing menace in Hassan coffee estates were translocated but, after straying into Bandipur, Mudumalai, Masinagudi and Nagarhole they returned to Hassan within months.

Besides having a strong sense of direction, elephants could communicate with each other through sub-sonic signals over a long distance. These would not be audible to humans.

Mr. Sundararaju said that the elephant population in Tamil Nadu was in the range of 4,000 to 5,000. The exact figure could not be arrived because they were highly mobile and could traverse 20-30 km a day across Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Elephants are termed mega flagship species because they can graze on 70 to 80 species and, therefore, their dung was of great ecological significance, Mr. Sundararaju said.

Key factors

About their foray into human habitations, he said that it was mainly due to two factors: disturbance caused to elephant corridors and indiscriminate farming operations.

Raising of water-intensive crops such as sugarcane, banana and maize (even though less water-intensive, its aroma can attract the elephants) by sinking borewells had depleted ground water level in forests, leading to early withering of trees, a situation that drove elephants out of their habitats.

It was sad that recently wild elephants trampled and gored to death three estate workers at Valparai.

Mr. Sundararaju said that demographic pressure had caused degradation of forests, forcing wild animals to leave them. He called for sensitising people about the importance of forests, wildlife and their conservation.

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