The episode of a young wild elephant straying into Mysore and killing a man is a tragic instance of rising conflict between the large free-ranging animals and people. Although the elephant is a beloved symbol of India's heritage, inspiring love, reverence, and fear, about 400 people and a hundred elephants lose their lives in these incidents annually. Just as people are terrified at the sight of a powerful mammal running wild, an elephant separated from its herd panics when it faces aggressive crowds. The unfortunate outcome should stir States out of their complacency, and they need not look far. In its report titled “Gajah: Securing the Future for Elephants in India” released last year, the Elephant Task Force of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, offers some clear ideas on how elephant-human conflict can be mitigated. The Karnataka government has done well to alleviate the financial distress of the family of the man killed. The long-term strategy must address several well-recognised issues that pit humans against elephants.
Female elephants live in highly cohesive clans and, research shows, the clans adopt distinct home ranges. The available knowledge on the ecology of these long-ranging animals makes it clear that any good strategy to avoid conflict must start with reduction of habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation. Often, new settlements or encroachments in the movement corridors of elephants result in violent confrontation. Lost habitat compels the animals to deviate from traditional pathways, in search of water and food. It is vital to use advanced technologies such as high-resolution satellite imagery to monitor and protect the habitat of elephants in all landscapes, particularly in corridors. Guarding crops against raiding will help in bringing down human-elephant encounters that provoke retaliatory killing. In Mysore, the panic escalated after live television coverage brought more crowds to the streets, creating greater fear in the animal. It is precisely such contingencies that an area-specific Conflict Management Task Force, an agency recommended by experts, should focus on. The MoEF has got off to a good start by committing itself to the creation of a National Elephant Conservation Authority. The central government must act to provide sufficient funding for it under the Twelfth Plan, taking into account that elephant protection could not advance much during the previous Plan for want of resources.