Coimbatore

Hassan follows Valparai model in mitigating human-elephant conflict

An elephant herd moving through a tea estate in Valparai.  

Around 4.30 p.m. on December 6, Yogesh (45), father of two children, was walking along a narrow path running adjacent to a coffee estate at Honkaravalli near the Hassan district of Karnataka. The supervisor of a coffee plantation, Yogesh, was reportedly warned by a woman worker that she had spotted a lone elephant in the coffee bushes on the boundary of the plantation. While others moved to safety, Yogesh went ahead in what proved to be a fatal encounter with the elephant, herds of which roam the coffee plantations, fragmented forest patches and monoculture stretches of acacia and eucalyptus in the Hassan district of Karnataka throughout the year.

Five human deaths caused by elephant attacks were reported on average annually between 2010 and 2016 in Hassan, making it a human-elephant conflict hotspot. Loss of human life and crop damage is a burning issue in as many as 102 villages in the 200 sq. km Alur-Sakleshpur-Yeslur region of the district. But help is at hand from a model system that the Mysuru-based Nature Conservation Foundation has successfully implemented in Valparai in the Western Ghats of Tamil Nadu.

“We identified 12 stretches of roads, some ranging from 6 km to 10 km, where encounters and elephant movements were high. GSM-based digital display boards in the vernacular language have been installed on both ends of four such stretches to alert road users, who mostly travel by foot or on two-wheelers,” said M. Ananda Kumar, wildlife scientist with the Mysuru-based Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) that has researched the conflict scenario in both Valparai and Hassan.

In Hassan, NCF's early warning system draws support from the Karnataka Forest Department, planters' associations, and locals. NCF has plans to install digital display boards on the remaining eight roads within a year.

“When analysed, we found that most of the encounters in the villages of Hassan took place on roads inside the plantations, which humans as well as elephants use for movement. We found that 75% of deaths due to elephant attack occurred on roads. With plantations protected by electric fences, elephants are forced to move on roads. Analysis of past cases also showed that most of these fatal encounters took place between 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.,” says Mr. Kumar,

‘Peak hours’ for movement are the same for humans and elephants: elephants enter the plantations in the evening and hurry to safe hideouts in the morning, often seeking cover in coffee bushes. Of the 30 fatalities reported between 2010 and 2016, victims were unaware of the movement of elephants in at least 20 cases. Open defecation was also a reason for such encounters.

Paddy is cultivated in swampy areas in the middle of coffee plantations in Hassan, and villagers are accustomed to elephants straying into estates. Following the constant conflicts, in 2014, the Karnataka Forest Department captured 22 elephants, including adults and juveniles, and shifted them to camps for rehabilitation. But the rare operation turned futile as around 30 new elephants moved into the region from nearby forests.

As in Valparai, the NCF launched an SMS-based alert system in Hassan — 98% of the 102 affected villages have mobile network coverage. People who wish to receive an alert register their mobile numbers with Vinod Krishnan, NCF's Hassan-based research associate. As it has in Valparai, the NCF also installed LED flash-lights at places on roads where elephant crossings were high.

“The whole idea of the early warning system introduced earlier in Valparai and now in Hassan is to bring down the number of accidental human-elephant encounters to zero. Unlike Valparai, where elephant movement reaches its peak between December and February, the villages of Hassan are on the verge of conflict throughout the year,” says Mr. Kumar. It is hoped Hassan's humans and elephants will benefit as Valparai’s have.

Valparai saw 44 human deaths due to conflict with elephants between 1994 and 2017. Between 1994 and 2002, the average number of human lives lost in a year due to elephant attacks stood at three. But in the 15 years since 2002, when NCF commenced its work in Valparai, the average loss of human life per year caused by elephant attacks has fallen to one. “In the last three years, in Valparai, no human deaths have been reported due to elephant attack when people were made aware of the animals’ presence or movement in a given area. In some of the unfortunate events reported, people either ventured into the place knowing of the elephants’ presence, or disturbed them,” says Mr. Kumar.


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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 7:40:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/hassan-follows-valparai-model-in-mitigating-human-elephant-conflict/article22341752.ece

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