Explained | Has human-animal conflict increased in Wayanad?

What has been the latest incident in a series of wild elephant attacks in Kerala? Why have such conflicts increased? What can be done to prevent them?

January 10, 2023 08:30 am | Updated March 03, 2024 09:20 am IST

PM2 darted and captured at Pulaimbarai RF in Maiyakolli near Gudalur.

PM2 darted and captured at Pulaimbarai RF in Maiyakolli near Gudalur. | Photo Credit: SATHYAMOORTHY M

The story so far: In the latest in a series of wild elephant attacks in Kerala, Subair Kutty, a daily worker, was attacked by a rogue elephant at Sulthan Bathery town adjacent to the Wayanad wildlife Sanctuary in the early hours of January 6. Subair, who was taken to a hospital with injuries, had a miraculous escape. The same elephant further charged at a bus and destroyed crops grown by three farmers on the same day. Meanwhile, a herd of elephants raided a field of 500 plantains belonging to two farmers at Kallur, some 10 kms away from Sulthan Bathery. After a three-day search, the elephant, codenamed Pandalur Makhna-2 or PM2, was caught and has since been relocated to the elephant kraal at Muthanga in Wayanad.

How was the elephant captured?

Initially, the plan was to chase the animal back into the wild. But on January 7, the chief wildlife warden issued an order to capture PM2 and to convert the elephant into a trained one, at the elephant kraal at Muthanga. Officials say two rogue elephants were captured and tamed in the kraal in the last decade.

How rampant is human-animal conflict in Bathery and Wayanad?

A few weeks ago, sightings of a five-year-old tigress at Vakery, some eight kms from Bathery, in the south Wayanad forest division, had caused panic among the residents in the area. Forest officials tried to locate the beast, which was found dead in a plantation three days later.

Also Read | Human-Wildlife Conflict infographics: Understanding the Impact on Elephants and Tigers in India

While the capture of PM2 provided a huge relief to the people of the area, they were nonetheless disgruntled over the perceived lack of apathy on the part of the government in effectively implementing plans to mitigate human-animal conflict. “Human-animal conflict has become a serious wildlife management problem in Kerala in the last few years,” says wildlife expert P.S. Easa. People living on the fringes of reserve forests and sanctuaries have a heightened sense of insecurity now. But the causes of this are many. He attributed many reasons to it including an increase in human population in such areas, habitat loss and fragmentation suffered by wild animals and change in cropping patterns adopted by farmers.

Is it a new problem?

Wild elephants turning restive has been reported from several areas recently, most pertinently from Munnar in Idukki, Vazhachal in Thrissur and in Wayanad itself. Crop raid by elephants, cattle-lifting by leopards and tigers, and attacks on humans have also been widely reported. “An analysis of the threats to biodiversity conservation and management of natural resources in various forest divisions of Kerala shows that human-wildlife conflict is a threat existing almost everywhere, but more frequently in the northern region and particularly in Wayanad,” Dr. Easa adds. The issue has always been there, but its frequency has gone up lately.

What has led to the spike?

An increase in the intrusion of people into wildlife habitats and the change in land use patterns by cultivators have exacerbated the trouble. Furthermore, these cultivators, who are often development-oriented and believe that the prime job of the forest department is to protect their interests, are less tolerant of crop raids by wild animals, Dr. Easa points out.

What is the way out?

The only solution is mitigation of conflict. For this, both government and society should work together as a single entity and alter perspectives towards wildlife and human existence in the forest and on its fringes. Parallelly, forest conservation must be made more effective, through participatory programmes involving the people, Dr. Easa says.

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