Jumbo death traps in the jungles 

The recent electrocution of elephants points to the risks wildlife face while navigating areas where human activity and wildlife habitats overlap 

Updated - June 03, 2022 01:48 pm IST

Published - June 02, 2022 04:26 pm IST

In this file photo, officials inspect the site where a male elephant was buried after it was electrocuted
by an illegal fence in a field near
Udhagamandalam. The farmer buried the carcass in his field. 

In this file photo, officials inspect the site where a male elephant was buried after it was electrocuted by an illegal fence in a field near Udhagamandalam. The farmer buried the carcass in his field.  | Photo Credit: M. SATHYAMOORTHY

Death of elephants by electrocution from illegal fences and power infrastructure in the wildlife habitats in the Nilgiris, Coimbatore and other regions of Tamil Nadu remains a cause for concern for environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts.

The recent electrocution of elephants highlights the hazards that the wildlife face while navigating the landscapes where human activity and wildlife habitats overlap.

According to the response under the Right to Information (RTI) Act from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, provided to wildlife activist Antony Rubin, electrocutions far outnumber any other cause of unnatural elephant deaths in the State. Between 2011 and 2021, 79 elephants died from electrocution, either by coming in contact with fences or through power infrastructure. The number of elephant deaths during the same period from poaching, poisoning and train collisions stood at only 10. In fact, the State recorded the fourth highest number of elephant deaths from electrocution during the period, after Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Karnataka.

N. Mohanraj, a Nilgiris-based conservationist, said the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO), which maintains power lines through the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB), should upgrade its infrastructure, by using ‘braid cables’ instead of regular cables in tiger reserves and reserve forests with elephant movement.

“In Gudalur, the landscape is known for heavy winds every year, leading to electricity poles coming loose and leading to power lines sagging close to the ground. While regular maintenance could bring down the chances of elephant deaths from electrocution, a permanent solution would be to replace the cables with safer technologies, even if such infrastructure is more expensive,” said Mr. Mohanraj.

N. Sadiq Ali, founder of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust (WNCT), said TANGEDCO needs to ensure that the power cables are a minimum of 21 feet above the ground and out of reach of elephants and other wildlife. “In places where it is feasible, underground cables can also be installed,” he said.

In the case of illegal fencing connected directly to the power supply, TANGEDCO needs to regularly check these fences and ensure that they are connected to batteries in compliance with the norms.

“There are also other guidelines, including one that these fences have only a certain amount of power passing through them,” he said, adding the WNCT has invented a device to check whether these fences are connected to batteries or to the power supply. “We are willing to provide this technology to the Forest Department free of cost, as it has been successfully tried,” he said.

The government has already taken note of illegal fencing and is taking steps to identify other hazards along wildlife corridors, said Additional Chief Secretary (Environment, Climate Change and Forests) Supriya Sahu. “We have started intensive combing operations to detect illegal fences, snares, open wells and traps,” Ms. Sahu said. Detailed guidelines are being formulated for TANGEDCO to raise the height of power lines in elephant habitats. The District Forest Officers have also been directed to inspect areas prone to such incidents and take measures to minimise the risk to the wildlife.

Despite a high number of elephant deaths due to electrocution, Tamil Nadu is yet to have proper guidelines for the use of electric fencing. In the absence of such guidelines, Ms. Sahu in February this year instructed the Collectors to implement orders issued by the Madras High Court in 2009 on the use of electric fencing around agricultural land. Her letter to Collectors came a few days after an elephant was electrocuted in a banana plantation belonging to an office-bearer of a farmer’s association at Varappalayam near Thadagam in the Coimbatore forest Division.

The Collectors were instructed to publish the procedures ordered by the High Court to obtain post-facto approval of the solar power fencing, if already erected. According to the court order, applicants should provide details of design and the mode of power supply.

“As of now, there is no regulatory mechanism to check the use of electric fencing. The government has to put in place rules and task TANGEDCO or any other department with regulate the installation of electric fencing. Officials should be held accountable for violations. The Forest Department should ensure that electrocution cases are investigated properly so that violators get punishment,” said Coimbatore-based activist K. Mohanraj.

He also wanted TANGEDCO to consider using advanced circuit- breaker tripping systems that can avoid electrocution from low-level or snapped lines in and around forest areas.

A Forest Department official said introduction of subsidies for farmers to purchase DC energisers and fences powered by the device would only scare wild animals that attempt to stray into agricultural fields. “Many farmers resort to using power directly from the lines to the fences as they are unable to afford safe methods like DC energisers,” the official said.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.