Elephants on annual migration from Karnataka leave a trail of destruction

P. Oppili
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Process begins during October-November; herds begin return journey by March-April

File picture of an elephant herd crossing the Krishnagiri – Bangalore National Highway 7 near Soolagiri to enter human habitation.
File picture of an elephant herd crossing the Krishnagiri – Bangalore National Highway 7 near Soolagiri to enter human habitation.

A herd of nearly 200 elephants has started migrating from Bannerghatta forests in Karnataka towards Tamil Nadu, raiding crops and attacking humans in what has now become an annual feature in the State’s western belt.

State Forest Department officials say the elephants begin the process during October-November and move towards the south and east. By March-April, they begin their return journey to Bannerghatta on the same route.

The pachyderms enter the Thali Reserve Forests and make their way through Javalagiri, Anjetti forest tract, Urigam forest tract, part of Denganikottai Reserve Forest, Ayyur forest and Udedurgam to reach the Soolagiri forests.

The herd comprises several small groups that move towards Tamil Nadu in search of food and water. The phenomenon was first noticed more than a decade ago. The elephant herds sometimes end up killing humans during early morning or evening hours, say the officials.

Raman Sukumar, Professor and Chairman, Centre for Environmental Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, who has been observing the migration, says the elephant herds often crosse National Highway 7 in Krishnagiri and move towards the Kaundinya sanctuary in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.

The animals are attracted by crops such as sugarcane, paddy and other millets. The herds find refuge in small forest patches during the day, and at night come out and raid the crops. The phenomenon has to be studied in detail, says Dr. Sukumar.

The Elephant Task Force formed in Karnataka as directed by the Karnataka High Court has clear answers for this problem. It says the elephant habitats have to be divided into three zones — conservation zone, elephant-human coexistent zone and elephant removal zone.

In the first zone, forest officials have to create barriers such as trenches to avoid animals moving out of their habitat. In the second zone, authorities have to move the animal from one part of the forest to another. During the migration if the animals destroy crops or attack humans, the farmers should be compensated.

The third area requires maximum attention as it is not viable for elephants. Man-animal conflict in this area will be disproportionately high and hence the animals have to be removed, the Task force has stated in its report.

A senior Forest official from Tamil Nadu says Forest authorities in Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts have taken up the work of creating elephant-proof trenches along the corridor to stop the migration. Sixty per cent of work had been completed over the last couple of years with funds provided by the State. During the next financial year the remaining work is expected to be completed.

“Once this is completed, the corridor created by the elephants in the last 15 years will be blocked.” However, there are still some plain areas in Udedurgam forests, where the problem will persist, the official adds. 

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