Jack fruit trees chopped down by private estate in prime elephant habitat near Kotagiri

The Glenburn Estate in Mamaram, had approached the district administration for permission to cut down 166 jackfruit trees inside the estate, which was granted on July 30, after field inspections by Forest Department staff.

Updated - October 07, 2023 07:35 pm IST

Published - October 07, 2023 04:23 pm IST - UDHAGAMANDALAM

Jack fruit trees chopped down inside elephant habitat, near Manaram village, in Glenburn Estate in the Nilgiris.

Jack fruit trees chopped down inside elephant habitat, near Manaram village, in Glenburn Estate in the Nilgiris. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Conservationists have criticised the district administration and the Forest Department for sanctioning the cutting of 166 jackfruit trees, in fruiting stage, at a private estate in Mamaram village near Kotagiri, a prime habitat for elephants.

The Glenburn Estate in Mamaram, had approached the district administration for permission to cut down 166 jackfruit trees inside the estate, which was granted on July 30, after field inspections by Forest Department staff.

When contacted, District Forest Officer (Nilgiris Division) S. Gowtham said the jackfruit trees belong to the Artocarpus heterophyllus species. “These trees have been planted by the estate and there is no ban on cutting these trees. Only wild jackfruit trees (Artocarpus hirsutus) cannot be cut,” said Mr. Gowtham, adding that the estate owners had stated that they wanted to cut the trees as they were having trouble with elephants entering the area.

However, local conservationists stated that the area itself was prime elephant habitat, and that the Forest Department was acting antithetically to the interests of forest- and wildlife conservation in granting permissions for the cutting of the trees, reducing availability of food for wild animals, especially elephants.

N. Sadiq Ali, Founder of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust (WNCT), said that cutting permissions being granted for fruiting trees in elephant habitats made little sense. “The area is used by elephants, who rely on fruiting trees for sustenance. At a time when elephants are facing numerous challenges, including habitat loss and fragmentation and severance of corridors, the Forest Department and district administration should be working to ensure that available habitats are protected. They should not be giving any permits to remove trees on which wildlife depends on for food,” he said.

Echoing Mr. Sadiq Ali’s statements, A. Bhoopathy, another conservationist from the Nilgiris, said that jackfruit trees were used not just by elephants but by rare birds such as Great Indian Hornbills and owls. “It is a crime against wildlife to disturb these areas, where the areas the trees occupied will now be taken over by invasive weeds or by tea plantations by the estate,” said Mr. Bhoopathy.

“The area itself is ecologically sensitive. People owning plantations should have to work within the framework where wildlife is given the highest priority, and not the other way round. There is something fundamentally flawed in the rationale which is used to grant cutting permissions in such an ecologically sensitive area,” said another Nilgiris-based conservationist, requesting anonymity.

When contacted, Selvaraj, Forest Range Officer (Kotagiri), said that he did not know which species of jackfruit the trees that were cut belonged to. He also was unable to distinguish whether the trees cut were Artocarpusheterophyllus or Artocarpus hirsutus species, stating that the forest ranger, whom he had replaced had done the field inspections, and that he personally had not inspected the site.

Two independent botanists The Hindu contacted said that identifying which species of trees were cut was very difficult even for trained botanists, but added that the trunks resembled that of the Artocarpus hirsutus species of jackfruit. The DFO dismissed these findings, stating that field staff, including foresters and rangers had conducted a field inspection prior to granting their consent for the cutting permissions.

On Saturday evening, the DFO, Mr. Gowtham, said the cutting permission granted to the estate had been temporarily withdrawn, and that the estate management had been instructed to stop the felling of trees. “We will be revisiting the place and taking further action,” said Mr. Gowtham in a statement.

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