Fragmented forests leave jumbos jittery

A colony built in Chinnakanal blocked the animals’ migratory path

Published - February 16, 2020 12:38 am IST - Idukki

Fragmentation of forest areas results in wild elephants getting stranded and turning violent, due to stress.

Fragmentation of forest areas results in wild elephants getting stranded and turning violent, due to stress.

Within a decade, 30 lives were lost and swathes of standing crops were destroyed in attacks by crop-raiding elephants in Munnar, where the largest number of man-animal conflicts were reported in Idukki. Fragmentation of forestland is the prime reason cited for the elephants straying into farmlands.

A herd of 28 wild elephants are stranded at Anayirangal dam area for years, surrounded by cardamom plantations and buildings, which block their traditional migratory path to the water source. Due to the steepness of the terrain to Mathikettan shola, the wild elephants often encroach into farmlands.

Most affected

The largest human casualty in wild elephant attack was reported in Chinnakanal after the creation of the No. 301 Colony for rehabilitating tribespeople. Within five years, 11 persons were killed there. It was alleged that the colony was created blocking the migratory path of wild elephants. Of the 110 families resettled, only 34 families live there now. The rest have abandoned the site fearing wildlife attacks.

When the proposal for creating the No. 301 Colony was made, the Forest Department had given a report to the government that the area was on the migratory path of the wild elephants. However, it was overlooked, creating a space for continued man-animal conflict there.

The human habitations that constantly come under elephant attack in Idukki are Chinnakanal, Santhanpara, Rajakkad, Marayur, Mankulam and Anayirangal dam in Munnar, in addition to Neryamangalam and Kothamangalam.

Martin Lowel, Assistant Forest Conservator, Munnar Forest Division told The Hindu that fragmentation of forest areas resulted in wild elephants getting stranded and being violent, due to stress. It was with the aim of relocating them that the first elephant sanctuary in the State was proposed in the Chinnakanal-Anayirangal area.

Lack of fodder or water may not be the only reason for wild animals coming out of the forest areas. When a migratory route is broken, the stranded wild elephants stay there and if they find a farmland there, destroy it for no reason. A herd of seven wild elephants recently strayed into the tea plantation of Kanan Devan Hills Plantation (KDHP) Ltd. for over a week and caused widespread damage.

Two more projects

When a dam is constructed, the forestland is fragmented at times, affecting the migratory path. The two major development works that may cause further fragmentation are the Thottiyar dam near Valara and the expressway of the Kochi-Dhanushkodi National Highway. The Forest Department has written to the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) that a separate zone be identified and created for the movement of wild elephants as the heavy traffic would negatively affect them.

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