It will help in reducing man-elephant conflict significantly, say conservation biologists

The recent discovery of illegal electric fencing along the elephant-proof trench (EPT) near Anechowkur, adjoining Nagarahole, has underlined the growing need for providing adequate funds towards EPT maintenance to mitigate human-elephant conflict in the region.

Electric cables connected to high tension power lines were found along the EPT in Anechowkur range last week, and more than 200 metres of cables were removed from the spot by the forest department personnel, who nabbed one person in this connection.

Wildlife conservationists and NGOs aver the incident indicates that EPT maintenance does not receive adequate importance and, hence, farmers and even poachers can conceive hideous ideas of concealing power cables along the EPTs. While the farmers take to fencing to ward off animals from raiding agricultural fields, poachers target large mammals such as tigers and elephants.

Conservation biologists say EPT along the periphery of the forests can help reduce human-elephant conflict significantly, which is rampant in the Mysore-Chamarajanagar- Hassan-Kodagu belt and hence the Government should make additional provisions for it.

Sources in the Forest Department told The Hindu that it costs around Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000 a year to maintain one km of EPT and special allocations had been sought towards maintaining them. While 154 km of trench has been dug around Nagarahole, about 202 km of trench has been dug in the periphery of Bandipur, both of which are high-density elephant areas. The annual cost of maintaining the EPT works out to approximately around Rs. 70 lakh a year.

While the EPT maintenance cost may appear prohibitive on the surface, forest department ends up paying many times that amount to victims of human-elephant conflict. According to a study conducted by Sanjay Gubbi, Member, State Wildlife Board, and M.H. Swaminath, retired Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), there were 4,606 cases of crop damage around the Nagarahole region and the compensation paid for conflict victims was more than Rs.1.08 crore during 2008-11. Similarly, 18,972 cases of crop damage were reported from regions surrounding Bandipur and Rs.2.67 crore was paid as compensation during the same period.

The conflict in other high-density elephant areas like in Madikeri wildlife division, Hunsur, Mandya, Hassan, Virajpet reveal a similar trend. This does not include the social cost in terms of trauma, human deaths, animosity towards wildlife all of which could be averted if there was special funding towards EPT maintenance.

Even the core committee constituted to study human-elephant conflict underlined the importance of creation and maintenance of barriers including EPT and solar fencing as one of the effective measures to mitigate human-elephant conflict.

The committee submitted its report almost two years ago and underlined the imperatives of allocating funds for EPT maintenance as per the action plans submitted by the different forest divisions and wildlife circles. It also called for strengthening the grassroots institutions like the village forest committees and the eco-development committees by providing funds to them for proper maintenance of the trenches.