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Human-elephant conflict most acute in W.B., Odisha, Assam

File: The data on human-elephant conflict assumes significance when India is moving to include Asian Elephants in the list of species that merit heightened conservation at the 13th Conference of Parties (COP) on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals scheduled to be held at Gandhinagar in Gujarat later this month.

File: The data on human-elephant conflict assumes significance when India is moving to include Asian Elephants in the list of species that merit heightened conservation at the 13th Conference of Parties (COP) on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals scheduled to be held at Gandhinagar in Gujarat later this month.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Three eastern States contribute to about half the human, elephant fatalities, ministry data reveals

Three States located in the eastern and north eastern parts of the country — West Bengal, Odisha and Assam — account for about half of both human and elephant deaths in the overall human-elephant conflict in the country, according to the latest data provided by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

Over the last five years, from 2014-15 to 2018-19, 2,381 human deaths were recorded in elephant attacks across the country, of which 1,132 (48%) fatalities were from these three States, as per the data tabled in the Rajya Sabha. West Bengal had the highest number of human casualties: 403, followed by Odisha with 397 and Assam with 332 deaths.

When it comes to unnatural deaths of elephants (mainly due to poaching, train accidents, electrocution and poisoning), the country recorded 490 deaths in the same period (2014-15 to 2018-19). Of these, 259 (53%) occurred in these three States alone. The figures were tabled in the Rajya Sabha on February 10, in response to a question by Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Majoj Kumar Jha.

Interestingly, these three States are home to just about 31% of the total population of all elephants in India. The last synchronised elephant survey in the country in 2017, had given a figure of 27,312 elephants — of which Assam had recorded 5,719 elephants, Odisha 1,976 and West Bengal 642.

Elephants electrocuted

Commenting on the particularly high incidence of human-elephant conflict in the three States, Raman Sukumar, an elephant expert and ecologist from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, said that these particular States had been a “neglected region in terms of building up the knowledge base on elephant ecology”. However, the three States “have been trying to redress this in recent years by commissioning various studies,” added Prof. Sukumar, who has been studying elephant behaviour for decades.

Among the reasons for unnatural deaths of elephants, electrocution is at the top of the list, accounting for 68% of elephant deaths in the country. Of the 490 deaths in the past five years, 333 were due to electrocution. Assam accounted for 66 electrocution deaths, followed by Odisha with 57 deaths and Bengal with 39 fatalities. The second most common cause for unnatural deaths of elephants is train accidents. Between 2014-15 to 2018-19, 77 deaths were due to train accidents, whereas poaching led to the death of 27 elephants and poisoning to nine deaths.

Prof. Sukumar said that deaths due to electrocution were rising because elephants were dispersing from their traditional habitats to the wider agricultural and industrial landscape, and were also increasingly moving from one State to another.

“During their movements, the elephants increasingly come into contact with high tension wires as well as with electric wires around farms set up to keep away other wild animals like wild pigs,” he added.

The data on human-elephant conflict assumes significance when India is moving to include Asian Elephants in the list of species that merit heightened conservation at the 13th Conference of Parties (COP) on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals scheduled to be held at Gandhinagar in Gujarat later this month.

Big Challenge

Describing the proposal to list elephants as an “interesting” development. Prof. Sukumar observed that the “most pressing issue” needing to be addressed was minimising the elephant-human conflict.

Pointing out that habitat fragmentation, mining inside forested areas and linear infrastructure building had all contributed to impinging upon the habitats of elephants, the ecologist added that at the same time scientists were not very sure about “how climatic variability has influenced elephant dispersal in this region”.

“A drought almost certainly played a role in the initial large scale dispersal of elephants from Jharkhand to southern West Bengal during 1986-87. More dispersals have since taken place into Chhattisgarh and beyond into Madhya Pradesh,” Prof. Sukumar noted.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 9:27:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/human-elephant-conflict-most-acute-in-wb-odisha-assam/article30830921.ece

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