Human-elephant conflicts linked to disappearing forest cover in Gudalur

A wild elephant, locally known as ‘katta komban’, at Chappanthodu near Cherambadi on Friday.  

The forest cover along crucial elephant corridors in Gudalur has decreased by around 13 per cent in the last four decades, and could be driving problematic human-elephant interactions in the region, a research paper suggests.

The research into land-use change in the Gudalur landscape, a crucial corridor for elephants moving between the Mudumalai and Bandipur Tiger Reserves to Nilambur, was conducted by S. Karthick, a Ph.d student from the Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology in the Government Arts College in Udhagamandalam, with the use of comparative satellite imagery.

Land conversion

According to Mr. Karthick, the forest cover in the Gudalur landscape reduced from a total of 432 square kilometres in 1977 to 370 square kilometres by 2016.

“Furthermore, the reduction in forest cover was highest through the period since 1990, when around three quarters of the conversion from forests to tea plantations, farms and buildings took place,” said Mr. Karthick.

B. Ramakrishnan, Assistant Professor at the department who guided Karthick’s research and analysis, said that taken as a singular figure, the reduction in forest cover was not that striking. “However, the areas where the forest cover has reduced could be along important elephant corridors, leading to more problematic interactions between humans and elephants,”Mr. Ramakrishnan said.

“The Nilgiris landscape has the single largest population of Asian elephants in the world. Elephants require these corridors to move from one habitat to another. These habitats are crucial for elephants’ feeding and also to ensure the genetic viability of this population,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan.

Conflict zones

The research has also delved into whether more problematic interactions occur in pockets of the Gudalur region where most of the conversion of forests into plantations and residential areas has taken place. “The correlation is very clear,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan, pointing out that Cherambadi, Pandalur and Bitherkad forest ranges had seen the most number of problematic interactions between people and elephants. These ranges had also seen some of the highest losses in forest cover, the analysis has shown.

Mr. Ramakrishnan said that long-term studies need to be conducted and elephant corridors identified. “Once this is done, corridors can be restored wherever viable, which will allow elephants to move between different landscapes. However, even after these corridors are restored, it could take years for elephants to begin using them again,” he said.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 10:19:31 AM |

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