A task force set up by the Karnataka High Court has recommended review of clearances given or that are pending for various projects, including mini-hydel projects, saying any illegality in grant of permission will pose serious threat to elephants and the integrity of their habitats.
In its report submitted to the court, the Karnataka Elephant Task Force suggested that permission should be cancelled if it is prima facie found to have been given in violation of laws. Officials, who have prima facie misrepresented facts about the presence of elephants and other wildlife while recommending project proposals, should be prosecuted, it said.
Directions should be issued to Union and State governments to refer instances of diversion of land in the elephants’ range in Karnataka to the Chief Wildlife Warden for assessment of potential impact on the wildlife. The authorities should ensure that commercial tourism infrastructure was located only in designated areas away from the elephant habitat or wildlife areas.
To reduce human-elephant conflict, the task force recommended division of areas into three zones — elephant conservation zones (such as Bandipur-Nagarahole region), elephant-human co-existence zone (forests north of the Cauvery up to Gangavara Reserve Forest in Kodagu), and elephant removal zone (Alur-Arkalgud taluks of Hassan district and Savandurga region of Tumkur).
The report suggested capturing 25 elephants in the Alur-Arkalgud region. They should be trained in captivity and should not be sent back to the wild. It pointed out that elephant-human conflict in the region was not only extreme in nature but also caused chronic suffering and extreme fear psychosis among people.
Citing earlier instances in which translocated elephants returned to their original habitat, the report pointed out that translocation did not guarantee successful settling down of elephants in the alternative habitat.
“The translocation of entire family groups has not been attempted in the State or, indeed, in the country, but the limited experience in Sri Lanka suggests that such elephants also tend to either go back, come into conflict with people at the place of release, or even starve to death when confined by barriers because of competition from and social exclusion by the local elephant groups,” the task force said.
The report suggests that “given the risks involved, if attempted, translocation must be seen as an experimental management tool, and should invariably be accompanied by close monitoring through radio- and GPS-collaring of at least one individual per group to observe its behaviour and movement so that corrective action such as removal into captivity could be taken in the case of continued conflicts.”