Kuthiran tunnel causes an unexpected human-wild elephant conflict

Elephants from Peechi forests have started crossing to Machad forests through old Kuthiran road

Updated - June 19, 2022 11:05 pm IST

Published - June 18, 2022 07:20 pm IST - Thrissur



The opening of the Kuthiran twin tunnels has inadvertently opened doors for human-wild elephant conflict.

As traffic on the Kuthiran road through the Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife sanctuary has come down considerably after the opening of the tunnels, wild elephants, hitherto restrained to the Peechi range, have started crossing the road to enter the Machad range, which has been devoid of elephants.

“Residents of Vazhani, Chelakkara, Elanad, and Vazhakode villages abutting the Machad forests are now living in constant fear of straying elephants. Crop-raiding wild elephants is a new crisis we are facing for the past few months,” says Thomas Mathew, retired teacher and farmer.

“Though farmers here are familiar with the menace of wild boars, deer, peafowl and wild squirrels, we have not faced threat of wild elephants in our area for the past 60 years,” he says.

Two days back, a herd of 15 elephants reached close to the house of Thessia, an aged woman at Vadakkemukku, Kakkanikkad. Elephants destroyed plantains in a farm at Poovanthura last Thursday. They come near houses to eat jackfruit, says Mr. Mathew.

Local people say an elephant herd is camping in the Machad forest for the past six months. They frequently raid farmlands close to the forests. “First we spotted a single tusker. Then, they came in herds. Even the value of land has started declining here,” they say. Tribespeople in Kakkanikkad Colony have stopped going to collect honey and other materials in forest.

“Elephants have reached the Asurankundu dam area. A few of them were spotted at Vazhakode a few days ago,” says Mr. Mathew. Standing crops were damaged at Chelakkara too recently by them. The Vazhani and Asurankundu dam reservoirs and the rich bamboo forests make the area a favourite for elephants.

Alathur MP Ramya Haridas, in a letter to the Thrissur Collector, has sought urgent steps to protect the lives of people.

“The government should not wait for human casualties to take action. We have been seeking measures such as trenches ever since elephants started straying in areas such as Peechi and Nenmara. Funds crunch has been cited as a hurdle. But schemes under the MGNREGS and disaster management should be utilised. The Tamil Nadu government has been effectively implementing hanging solar fences to prevent elephant raids,” she says.

“The crossing over of elephants from the Peechi forests to Machad was predicted even before the Kuthiran tunnel was opened,” says former director of the Kerala Forest Research Institute and wildlife conservationist P.S. Easa.

“There were suggestions to construct barriers to prevent the passing of elephants. Unfortunately, they have not been implemented. There is more danger of casualties when elephants stray into areas where people are not familiar with such incidents,” he says.

Forest officials too agree to the assumption that wild elephants are moving to the Machad range from Peechi through Kuthiran.

“The 24x7 heavy traffic at Kuthiran used to deter elephants from crossing the road to the Machad range. But with the diversion of traffic through the tunnel, a new elephant corridor has been formed at Kuthiran,” says Sreedevi Madhusudhanan, Machad forest range officer.

A proposal has been given for erecting a hanging solar fence along a km-and-a-half stretch at Kuthiran. Steps are also planned to take preventive measures under the Vanamitra project in association with the local self-government institution in the area, she says.

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