Last November, elephants in herds, 38 of them, wandered into the forests of Bandhavgarh looking for food and water, like each year. A year on, they have stayed back in Madhya Pradesh for the first time over seasons and even bred two new calves, choosing not to return to the withering forests of north Chhattisgarh.
The herd has found plenty of space, food and water within the core are of the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, and that’s why it may have stayed back, believes Reserve Deputy Director Sidharth Gupta.
Stating that the species is migratory, he says: “... That we have two new members now indicates that the species is comfortable here.”
The ‘Tiger State’ of Madhya Pradesh, which in the 2019 census recorded the most number of estimated tigers at 526, thus securing the title, presently has no know-how of dealing with elephants. Experts from West Bengal and Chhattisgarh were roped in, who held workshops with local staff on averting man-animal conflicts.
Ruling out the possibility of conflict between the herd and tigers, J.S. Chauhan, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife wing said:“While one is a herbivore, the other is a carnivore, so there is no competition.”
Besides Bandhavgarh, two male elephants from Odisha strayed into the forests of Narsingpur. The State government has applied with the Centre to capture them as elephant is a Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife Protection Act,1972, and foresters anticipate a conflict in the region, says Mr. Chauhan.
“There has been no human loss, and this suggests the herd is getting enough resources within the forest. Still, there have been instances of paddy field raids in some areas. We have organised sensitisation and awareness camps in surrounding villages to equip locals with mitigative techniques in case of conflict,” he adds.
The focus is more on instilling a sense of co-existence with the animals among villagers, says J. S. Chauhan, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife wing. “Staff will be sent to other States having significant elephant population to acquire practical experience in handling them,” he adds.
Pointing out that there have been no cases of man-animal conflict in Bandhavgarh for a year now, he says: “ We have proposed to the Centre to secure the right to collar the elephants to track their movement. However, the State has so far allocated no separate funds for the upkeep of their habitat. The presence of elephants will not alter the movement of tigers in the area.” he says.
Furthermore, he says, the elephants belong to a herd which had migrated from Jharkhand years ago into the forests of Chhattisgarh. “Why they moved from Chhattisgarh to here and stayed back is a topic of research. We need to accumulate data, establish a cause-effect relationship,” says Mr. Gupta.