Villagers in vulnerable areas have been asked to shift to safer places

Thousands of villagers and hundreds of police and Forest Department officials in two districts of Odisha are spending sleepless nights for a week now. The cause of their worries: a massive elephant herd comprising over 70 jumbos from neighbouring West Bengal is moving through human habitations in Odisha.

The herd was last spotted at Sajanagada, 6 km from the Nilagiri forest, in Balasore district on Thursday. Forest Department personnel said the herd had 20 females and 15 calves.

Fear-stricken villagers and Forest Department personnel were hoping that the herd would return to the forest without causing any damage. For the district and forest administration, it is as critical as the situation arising out of a disaster.

Villagers, especially tribal persons in vulnerable areas, have been asked to shift to safer places like school buildings or community halls. To send their message across, forest personnel have made appeals in the tribal dialect

“The ideal approach to deal with such a huge herd is not to disturb them and allow them to go into the forest. We have already raised the compensation money for the crop being damaged by elephants. So instead of upsetting the herd, people should stay calm,” said Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) S. S. Srivastava here on Thursday.

Mr. Srivastava said the same herd had entered the Odisha border last year and caused extensive damage. “This year the herd is found to be little quiet. So far no human casualty has been reported. We are keeping a close eye on their movements,” he said.

Last year, the government had to cough up Rs. 40 lakh towards compensation and restoration as the same herd wrecked havoc in Balasore and Mayurbhanj districts.