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Growing pressure on habitats forcing elephants to stray into urban areas

R. Krishna Kumar
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Expert calls for ban on infrastructure projects that are in variance with the nature of land-use pattern

pushing them Back:A herd of elephants being driven away after they ventured into the suburbs of Mysore recently.— Photo: PTI
pushing them Back:A herd of elephants being driven away after they ventured into the suburbs of Mysore recently.— Photo: PTI

The recent foray of a herd of wildlife elephants into Mysore from the Hediyala range of Bandipur National Park is the continuation of a pattern that is played out regularly in the rural hinterlands of the district.

The only difference, if any, was the herd’s ‘intrusion’ into urban areas, which sent alarm bells ringing in the corridors of power as the elephants were deep inside the city corporation limits and close to residential areas with schools and hospitals in the vicinity.

Challenges

There was every possibility of the herd splitting into groups as the terrain and the ambience was different, there was high traffic density on the Mysore-Nanjangud Road, and the presence of a large crowd being a constant source of disturbance and nuisance to the elephants when the authorities were trying to nudge them back to the forests.

But the Forest Department staff were successful in driving them back to the jungles as a single herd. Such incidents are common in the adjoining taluks of Mysore Rural such as Hunsur, Nanjangud, Periyapatana as also in the district of Chamarajanagar.

The undivided Mysore district, which includes the Chamarajanagar district, is home to two national parks — Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks — and the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary. These are reckoned by experts to harbour some of the highest densities of elephants anywhere in Asia.

The entire landscape is not only contiguous but spreads across to neighbouring district of Kodagu (where the man-elephant conflict is very high) as also to Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu and Wayanad in Kerala.

A portion is also part of the Mysore Elephant Reserve in the Nilgiri-Eastern Ghat Elephant Range, and is spread over 6436 sq. km, supporting about 5,300 to 6,200 wild elephants as per the 2010 Census.

Given the ground realities of the region, elephants straying into human landscape frequently is not surprising. Experts and wildlife conservationists say growing anthropogenic pressure on wildlife habitat, which results in habitat degradation and fragmentation along with encroachment of the migratory path of elephants, is leading to conflict with humans.

Though elected representatives with their penchant for vote-bank politics have played to the gallery and opined that elephant population is on the rise, census results indicate that they are stable within a range.

Sanjay Gubbi, wildlife biologist and a former member of State Board for Wildlife, underlined the importance of ensuring that infrastructure projects which were in variance with the nature of land- use pattern of the habitat, were discouraged and banned in the buffer zone.

This includes the need to curb proliferating tourist resorts and taking a stance against quarrying, mining, mini-hydel projects, highways, railway lines etc. so that the protected areas are intact and the migratory corridors are not disturbed.

This is particularly important around Bandipur and Nagarahole as the former has about 196 villages with nearly 2 lakh human population while Nagarahole has close to 96 villages, supporting 1 lakh to 1.25 lakh people.

The pressure on forests is intense as the livestock forays into the jungles for fodder. The inter-species competition for fodder and the change in land-use pattern drives large mammals like elephants to the fringes where sugarcane fields abound. Incidentally, these fringe areas were part of the elephant ecosystem and its habitat in the past. Change in crop pattern due to irrigation facilities or borewells on the forest fringes also attract elephants.

Shining examples

Despite the seemingly difficult situation of balancing wildlife conservation with development imperatives of the society, there are shining examples of how positive intervention can be win-win situation for animals and humans in the long run.

A case in point is the declaration of an eco-sensitive zone around Bandipur which is expected to help retain the existing land-use pattern. No projects inimical to wildlife will be allowed and to that extent the habitat will remain secure. The ESZ around Bandipur covers 479 sq. km spread over 123 villages of Mysore and Chamarajanagar districts.

The Forest Department too has taken steps like digging elephant proof trenches and erecting solar fencing.

H.C. Kantharaj, Conservator of Forests and Director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, told The Hindu that Bandipur had a boundary of 220.45 km against which elephant proof trenches had been dug along 175.2 km.

“Once completed, the number of crop raiding incidents by elephants and their foray into human habitation will decline by 80 to 90 per cent,” he added.

The results are already evident. The number of crop compensation claims filed by farmers in the region came down from 6,327 cases in 2008-09 to 878 in 2012-13.

Similar efforts around Nagarahole after studying the migratory movement of the elephants can help reduce the conflict to manageable limits.

Elephant proof trenches have been dug along 175.2 km of the

220.45 km-boundary of Bandipur Tiger Reserve

H.C. Kantharaj

Director

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