Study shows link between deforestation and human-elephant conflict

MYSORE, 04/10/2011: Crop raids by the pachyderms have become a common feature in most parts of the state.   | Photo Credit: M.A. Sriram

A study carried out in the Western Ghats shows that deforestation has led to the loss of 6,761 sq km of elephant habitat over 40 years leading to increase in human-elephant conflict.

The study area spanned over 47,000 sq km across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and included Bhadra Tiger Reserve in the northern most point and the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in the south — an area which hosts one of the highest densities and abundance of wild Asian elephants in the world.

The details of the study have been published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science and was conducted by Jean-Philippe Puyravaud, Sanjay Gubbi, H.C. Poornesha, and Priya Davidar. A release said using maps from the 1960s and satellite imagery, the authors compared past forest cover to the recent agricultural mosaics for a period of 44 years and found a severe loss of elephant habitat.

Data shows that between 1960 and 2004, a total of 4,023 sq km of forests and 2,738 sq km of scrub amounting to 6,761 sq km (16,70,679 acres) of elephant habitat was lost to agriculture, infrastructure development, and other activities. The lost elephant habitat is nearly equivalent to 10 times the current size of Bengaluru city, according to the authors. This deforestation severed the elephant habitat link between Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the Bhadra Tiger Reserve and most notably in Hassan and Kodagu districts. The deforestation in the two districts mostly occurred in areas that existed in private lands, transforming the landscape.

What emerged from the study was that the human-elephant conflict incidents occurred at locations where deforestation rate was high, and such incidents did not occur at random. The districts of Kodagu and Hassan witness some of the highest human-elephant conflict incidences in the country. A total of 64 people have died in Kodagu and Hassan due to elephant conflict in the last 10 years. Elephants have continued to survive in this deforested area possibly relying only on small refugia of forests thus leading to a situation where isolated elephant populations are struggling with the land transformation. The elephants come in frequent contact with humans in areas where their habitat is vanishing, and this is a recipe for disaster.

The study emphasises the importance of proactively reducing deforestation, loss, and fragmentation of elephant habitats to reduce the loss of human lives and livelihoods, and at the same time stem the negative attitudes towards wildlife.

The authors say development can be achieved with conservation for the benefit of humans and wildlife, but it requires an optimisation of the landscape organisation by zoning of activities, which is allowing the right economic activity at the right place, said the authors.

The study also found that the number of incidences was highest within 4 km of the protected area boundary. Hence the idea of zonation is particularly appropriate in this case and better land-use planning, awareness, and adequate activities within this zone can help reduce impact for both people and animals.

Citing other studies, the authors have warned that the future of Asian elephants will become precarious in the coming decades as anthropogenic global warming may destroy half of elephants range in India and hence efforts to maintain forest cover, connectivity and ecosystem services outside protected areas must be pursued.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 3:05:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/study-shows-link-between-deforestation-and-human-elephant-conflict/article29345363.ece

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