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More human deaths likely in encounters with elephants in Odisha, warn experts

On the rise: Data from the Wildlife Society of Odisha show a spike in human-elephant encounters in the last three years. File photo.

On the rise: Data from the Wildlife Society of Odisha show a spike in human-elephant encounters in the last three years. File photo.

Human-elephant encounters are likely to result in more human deaths with jumbos increasingly entering villages in search of food, warn wildlife experts. Experts on Thursday expressed concerns about the situation in Odisha, where 750 human casualties have been recorded in such encounters over the past eight years.

“In the last six weeks, human-elephant conflict has been raging in all elephant-bearing districts with more elephants entering villages in search of food. We could probably see more human casualties in 2021-22 than in 2020-21, when 106 human deaths and 119 injuries were recorded,” said Biswajit Mohanty, secretary, Wildlife Society of Odisha (WSO).

He said the highest human casualties were recorded in 2019-20, when 115 persons had died as marauding elephants killed them. The figures reveal a spike in conflict in the last three years.

According to statistics put out by WSO, of the 97 human deaths so far this year, Sundargarh district has recorded the most deaths (21), followed by Keonjhar (12).

“Due to uncontrolled mining activity, stressed elephants are angry and enter villages in search of food, killing locals in the process. Every mining proposal in dense forests that house elephant habitats and feeding grounds, has been cleared by the forest department,” Mr. Mohanty said. “Dhenkanal, which has a high number of black-stone and laterite stone quarries, recorded 11 human deaths followed by Angul (10), where coal mining expansion in elephant forests and large steel industries has led to a jump in attacks,” he said.

‘Highest toll in country’

Ranjit Patnaik, a wildlife researcher, said, “In the last three years, we have witnessed approximately one human-elephant encounter every two days and a human casualty every three days. Such a high number of human casualties, at such a frequency, had never been recorded in the past. It’s probably one of the highest in the country.”

The WSO said in most cases, nearly 60% of the time, the encounters are with tuskers. “There are particular tuskers who are aggressive and make many kills. It is possible to prevent those confrontations if these tuskers are identified and continuously tracked by expert trackers,” Mr. Mohanty said.

Experts, however, alleged that tracking was not being done as most trackers were actually deployed on other duties. It has been found that nearly 25% of human casualties happened when the walls of huts they were living in were toppled by elephants to raid paddy and liquor.

“A massive door-to-door campaign needs to be launched by the forest department to make people aware about the dangers of storing foodgrains and liquor in bedrooms,” the experts suggested.

“While the human casualties have been very high, the elephant deaths since 2014-15 have been equally high. As many as 611 elephants have died during the period April 2014 to January 18,” the WSO said, adding that 191 jumbos died unnatural deaths.

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Printable version | May 23, 2022 1:59:11 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/more-human-deaths-likely-in-encounters-with-elephants-in-odisha-warn-experts/article38301930.ece