Recommendations by experts and ongoing debates over controlling wild elephants notwithstanding, man-elephant conflict is there to stay in Kodagu.
The gentle giants are having a free run in the district with many of them making coffee plantations their favourite habitats and destroying crops.
According to one estimate, more than 60 elephants are holed up in the coffee plantations in Kodagu. They have been moving around nonchalantly in areas such as Polibetta, Maldare, and surrounding villages.
Elephant visits were unheard of in P.C. Ponnappa’s coffee plantations in Sulugodu village in Virajept taluk some 20 years ago. Mr. Ponnappa is now a mute spectator to the frequent visits of pachyderms almost every night. Many in Andagove village in Somwarpet taluk of Kodagu do not venture out in certain seasons when the mammoths roam the village. D.S. Poonacha, N.C. Vasant, and others in the village prefer to return home by 6 p.m.
Deaths of humans and elephants are frequently being reported from the district. Solar fencing by private plantations has restricted the movements of the animals in many places. However, having a well-equipped solar fence or a deepened elephant-proof trench have not helped curb the conflict situations or prevent the elephants from straying into plantations and human habitats.
Efforts to capture trouble-making pachyderms yielded mixed success in 2008. Elephant-scaring squads succeeded in chasing some of the animals back to the Nagarahole National Park from Mayamudi and surrounding areas. In one instance, 14 elephants were driven back to the forests from Konanakatte and Devarapura areas. Rapid response teams headed by Deputy Range Forest Officers are monitoring the situation, yet the conflict ceases to end.
Lack of fodder and drinking water had been pushing the pachyderms out from forests into human habitations and agricultural fields, forest officials say. That bamboos have dried up in forests had made things worse.
Besides, the elephant population has increased in recent years and at least 60 elephants had been added to the herd in Kodagu alone, Nanda Subbaiah, former chairman of the Codagu Planters Association, told The Hindu .
Many in Kodagu do not agree with the contention that elephant corridors of the past have been converted into coffee plantations.
There is no basis in claiming that the 1,003-sq. km area of coffee belt in Kodagu was an elephant corridor in the past, they argue.
Of the total geographical area of 4,102 sq. km in Kodagu, reserve forests and protected forests covered up to approximately 1,400 sq. km.
A study, ‘Elephants also like coffee: trends and drivers of human-elephant conflicts in coffee agro-forestry landscapes of Kodagu, Western Ghats, India’, conducted in 2008, had concluded that elephants have started feeding on ripened coffee berries. This has added a new dimension to the conflict situation. The study was conducted by P. Bal, Cheryl D. Nath, K.M. Nanaya, C.G. Kushalappa, and C. Garcia.
A holistic approach is needed to bring down the problem, feels Mr. Subbaiah. Capturing the trouble-makers and taming them in captivity could be a good option, he added.