Contrary to popular perception, elephants do not raid crops because of the lack of fodder in forests. Crop raids, in fact, occur most often post-monsoon — not in summer — when forests are particularly abundant in food and water, according to a new research paper.
The impression that elephants raid crops in summer has led to “unscientific” suggestions that more surface waterholes should be created and fodder crops grown inside protected areas, says the paper, published in the latest issue of international journal Biological Conservation.
Rather, factors such as elephant behaviour and movement patterns and the maintenance of physical barriers are the important determinants of conflict, found the study that looked at Nagarhole National Park, one of the prime habitats for the Asian elephant.
Human-elephant conflict, one of the greatest conservation challenges in India, claims 400 people and 100 elephants each year and affects nearly 5,00,000 families through crop damage. In Nagarhole, 79 villages were affected by human-elephant conflict during the study period, 2006-2009, and 1,955 incidents of crop loss were compensated by the State Forest Department in the same timeframe.
This study found that elephants travelled nearly 10 km from Nagarhole National Park to raid crops. Conflict frequency was the highest during August-November when crops such as finger millet, maize and paddy were ripening. “Our study results clearly demonstrate that crops such as sugarcane or irrigated land around (Nagarhole) did not contribute heavily to conflict,” the paper concludes.
The author, Sanjay Gubbi of the Wildlife Conservation Society-India Program and Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore, criticises the complicated and inadequate regime of compensation. An average of Rs. 1,500 is paid for each incident, and the money takes 114 days to reach the victim, he points out. “Compensation even as a partial strategy to reduce animosity and support aggrieved farmers needs large-scale improvement,” he says.