It is a time for farmers to be elated in the district as their crops are nearing harvest, but it is also a crucial time for the settlers in Kottamkara hamlet, a settlement inside the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary (WWLS), of Noolpuzha panchayat, as any moment they can expect wild animals to attack and destroy their crops and hopes.

As many as 34 families living in the settlement anticipate attacks from wild animals. A few weeks ago, a lone elephant destroyed one acre of paddy field, the only source of income of Mr. Sekharan, a tribal farmer of Kottamkara. A few days later a herd of elephants destroyed nearly 10 acres of paddy field out of the 82 acres of land in the settlement. “Four years ago I had cultivated in my four acres of land but this year I utilised only one acre of land owing to the increasing wild animal threat,” Kuriakose of Maliyekkal a farmer of Kottamkara, said. The elephant trenches and electric fencing have proved ineffective to resist the attack of wild animals, he pointed out.

Kottamkara is one among 30 other settlements inside the WWLS. The fate of the farmers in other settlements such as Chettialathur, Kurichiad, Goloor, Puthur, Manimunda, Rampally and Panappadi is not different from Kottamkara. Rice cultivation, collecting forest produce and cattle rearing are the main livelihoods of the people here. “Though we have been living here since 1950, we do not have any documents for our property,” K.V. Mariyamma of Kottamkara settlement said. “We cannot claim for our crop loss to the forest department as the forest authorities did not renew the lease of our land after 2002,” she added.

According to a forest department survey held in 2002 as many as 950 families had to relocate from 23 settlements in Wayanad. As of now, there are 3,000 to 3,500 families, including the tribals residing in the wildlife sanctuary, the source added. The settlements in the sanctuary came into being in three ways — those living in the sanctuary were allowed to stay and given title deeds during the first survey of the erstwhile British period (though this number is few), tribal settlements, and land given on lease to people in the 1940s and 1950s for cultivation, a forest department source said.