The fragmented and patchy forests of south Bengal have emerged as one of the hotspots of human-elephant conflict in the country, resulting in loss of lives of both humans and pachyderms.
At times, the conflict results in law and order problems. In November 2021, a herd of 50 elephants came within 5 km of east Burdwan town, prompting the district administration to impose prohibitory orders in several gram panchayats in the region.
Between 2014 and 2019, as many as 2,381 human deaths were recorded in elephant attacks across the country, of which 403 (over 16%) were reported from West Bengal. The State, however, is home to less than 3% of the elephant population and records a high death count of pachyderms in conflicts.
Minimising elephant-human conflict is the pressing need of the region and wildlife organisations and experts have now taken up the task of undertaking ecological restoration of elephant corridors in south Bengal.
‘Degradation of forests’
“The degradation started not just with increased agricultural activities in the region but also participatory joint forest management such as community forestry, which changed the very nature of the forest to make it commercially viable, not considering the biodiversity of the region,” said Diya Banerjee, an ecologist from Uttarayan Wildlife, who is leading the five-year restoration project. It is also aimed at creating a balanced ecosystem so that humans and animals can coexist in consonance with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Abhishek Ghosh, who is associated with the project, said there are 180 to 200 elephants in the region, but due to fragmentation of forests these herds are no longer following traditional migration. “This is the reason that sometimes we see elephants entering towns in Burdwan and Bankura and Medinpur,” Mr. Ghosh said.