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Human-elephant conflict kills 1,713 people, 373 pachyderms in 3 years

An elephant attacking a man in Burdwan, West Bengal. File

An elephant attacking a man in Burdwan, West Bengal. File   | Photo Credit: AFP

Electrocution is a leading cause of elephant deaths; factors, including habitat disturbance, cause for rise in conflict, Minister tells Parliament

In the three years between 2015-2018, human-elephant conflict caused 1,713 human and 373 elephant deaths by unnatural causes, including electrocution and poaching. Experts say various factors, including habitat disturbance and urbanisation, could be the cause of the alarming rise in unnatural human and animal casualties.

Highest numbers

In a response to Parliament, Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFF), said damage to houses and crops had been reported in several States. Data presented by him showed that the highest numbers of human casualties had occurred in West Bengal (307 deaths), followed closely by Odisha (305).

In 2018 alone, Dr. Sharma said, 227 people were killed by wild elephants in 16 States, with Assam reporting the highest number (86).

Electrocution of elephants is a particular cause for concern in managing India’s elephant population. Deaths caused by electrocution stood at 226, contributing to 60.6% of deaths since 2015, according to the data. In comparison, elephant deaths by all other causes, including train accidents, poaching and poisoning, added up to 147.

Human-elephant conflict kills 1,713 people, 373 pachyderms in 3 years
 

The data showed that the mean number of elephant deaths per year would be 56.6 — a worrying statistic.

While the data provides information on the causes of the deaths, it does not mention the States with the highest number of elephant-related deaths, thus eliminating the possibility of looking at case-specific details.

Human deaths

The fragmented landscape in West Bengal makes it difficult to prevent elephant or human deaths, said N. Kalaivanan, veterinarian and elephant expert.

Ajay Desai, consultant, World Wildlife Fund-India (WWF) explained that human-elephant conflict in West Bengal dates back three decades. “In the 1980s, elephants in the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary would be confined to the Dalma hills, as food and water was available for them. When cultivation of paddy began in the plains near the hills, elephants began moving downwards to raid crops. Villagers chased them away and elephants began moving all the way to the southern portion of West Bengal,” he said. Since elephants were not confined to a restricted environment, widespread conflict between humans and animals increased.

Elaborating on Odisha’s problem, Mr. Desai said that the growing number of mines would continue to be a problem for elephants there. “Elephants move from Odisha and Jharkhand to Chattisgarh. The Chhattisgarh population, however, is unaccustomed to the presence of elephants in their midst. This leads to many accidents,” he said.

Mr. Desai said that detailed post mortems of elephants is difficult as the bodies are decomposed at the time of examination in cases of death by electrocution. “Some deaths are caused by the presence of low hanging wires, others are retaliatory in nature. Situation analysis of each death must be done by the Forest Department to ascertain the cause of the death,” he said.

Localised solutions

Dr. Kalaivanan recommends localised solutions to elephant-related problems.

“Policy should be formed to provide solutions suited to the particular geography. Habitat degradation is a major cause of elephant deaths. While compact landscapes like ones in the Nilgiris provide little space for interaction between wild elephants and people, disturbed landscapes, like Thevaram in Tamil Nadu’s Theni district, are linear forests and hence lead to issues such as crop raiding and human deaths,” he said.

Mr. Desai also noted that degradation of habitat and a rise in elephant population in certain parts of the country are not discussed in detail. Recognising problems like deforestation is seminal to creating a solution, he said.

Dr. Sharma said that the Ministry has approved the construction of physical barriers such as barbed wire fences, solar powered electric fences, and bio-fencing using cactus and boundary walls, to prevent the entry of elephants into agricultural land. Dr. Kalaivanan suggests the stepping up of community participation in the protection of crop lands and elephants.

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 8:19:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/human-elephant-conflict-kills-1713-people-373-pachyderms-in-3-years/article26225515.ece

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