R. Krishna Kumar
Nine elephants have met with a grisly death in Mysore-Nanjangud-Gundlupet belt during the last few days
Involve local people to protect and
conserve wildlife: activists
‘Provide compensation for crop destroyed
by animals as per the market rate’
MYSORE: Nine elephants have met with a grisly death in Mysore-Nanjangud-Gundlupet belt during the last few days. The number of elephants that died in the last six months is said to be 26.
The Karnataka High Court has taken note of the issue and directed the Department of Forests to submit a report. Officials are taking steps to reduce the man-animal conflict in the region but these are being seen as ad hoc measures.
The present situation is the fallout of years of disregard towards environment and habitat management of critical wildlife areas, increase in human intrusion into the jungles of Bandipur and Nagarahole, habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dilip Kumar has pointed out that agricultural tracts have been allowed to come up within 50 yards of the Bandipur National Park boundary, and farmers are cultivating succulent crops such as sugarcane which tempt herbivore animals, especially elephants.
The department has drawn flak for its habitat management as naturally available fodder and vegetation have been replaced by weeds such as lantana and eupatorium which are not consumed by elephants. This has forced them to stray into human habitations where they come into conflict with farmers.
Expanding human habitations and the burgeoning population have resulted in shrinking of the forest base for animals. Also, there is tremendous pressure on forests by communities dependent on them for firewood.
Deputy Conservator of Forests Raju has said that there are 150 villages around Bandipur alone. These villages have a total population of over 1.5 lakh and nearly two lakh cattle.
The wildlife in Bandipur-Nagarahole-Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary belt, which account for nearly 3,000 elephants apart from thousands of deer and Indian Gaur, compete with the cattle for fodder. Domestic cattle being grazers do not allow for regeneration of vegetation as they return to the same spot again and again resulting in degradation of forests. The wild animals are browsers who feed on vegetation and migrate to other places in the jungles and return to the earlier range after a few months thus providing ample time for the forest to regenerate. The other important factor that is degrading forests is manmade fire which devastates large chunks of vegetation every year. This has resulted in the growth of fire-resistant species such as lantana that are inedible and elephants are forced to look out for fodder for their sustenance.
Compounding the problem for animals is the increase in human-induced disturbance around national parks. A case in point is the proliferation of private resorts. The Government had called for creation of an Eco Sensitive Zone by banning all types of commercial tourism around a 10-km radius of Bandipur and Nagarahole. But this is yet to be materialised.
Sanjay Gubbi, a wildlife researcher, and his team has calculated that at least 950 vehicles ply on the two highways bisecting the Bandipur National Park every day which causes tremendous disturbance for animals.
The net impact is seen in their behaviour as they tend to retreat deep inside the forests only to enter into territorial conflicts with other animals. A few of them enter the human habitations for food only to get killed or maimed in the process.
Vivek Cariappa, who lives on the fringes of the forests said: “As a family engaged in organic farming in the Nugu valley, we have considerable experience in coexistence with wildlife. But the man-animal conflict is aggravating and going out of control in the recent years due to various reasons.”
He listed encroachment, lack of buffer zone, poor forest management and lack of environmental awareness among people in forest areas, among others, as the reasons for the conflict.
Farmers living on the fringes of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are also affected by the conflict.
A farmer in Sargur who lost standing crop (sugarcane) worth Rs. 4 lakh was given a compensation of Rs. 500. There is a growing demand to increase the compensation awarded to farmers who suffer crop loss by wild animals. Ironically, the Department of Forests is hamstrung by outdated laws that were framed decades ago. It is now considering an amendment to increase the compensation awarded to farmers in case of crop depredation by wild animals.
Wildlife activists have pointed out that co-opting local people is the best way to protect and conserve wildlife as without their cooperation the department alone cannot handle the problem, given the paucity of staff. And the best way to make them stakeholders in conservation is by providing compensation to the crop destroyed by elephants as per the market rate, according to the activists.