Today's Paper

Man-elephant conflict claims over 240 lives in 10 years

Man-elephant conflict in seven forest divisions in three districts of south Bengal resulting in the loss of human lives and pachyderms is emerging as a major challenge for foresters and the district administration.

While a 70-year-old villager was killed by an elephant in Jhragram subdivision in Paschim Medinipur district on May 24, another villager was trampled by an elephant herd in Lalgarh area of the same district on May 18.

The number of deaths reported over the last ten years indicates that while about 241 persons were killed by elephants, over 50 elephants died in the forests of south Bengal. However, a majority of elephants died of natural causes. Forest officials who have been working in the conflict-prone areas of south Bengal point out that there has been a significant rise in the number of migratory elephants visiting Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia districts over the past few years.

Senior forest officials said there were about 140 elephants in south Bengal at present of which about 100 were seasonal migratory elephants. The pattern of migration of the elephants had changed significantly over the past two decades. Earlier, elephants from the adjoining State would spend only a few months in the State.

A study conducted by Subhamay Chanda, Joint Director, Sunderban Biosphere Reserve, titled ‘Man – Elephant Conflict in South-West Bengal’ points out that the eastern bank of Kangasabati river is very fertile and most of the land is under cultivation throughout the year providing food to elephants.

Increased irrigation facility led to a change in the crop pattern and more migratory elephants coming to south Bengal from adjoining Dalma Forest in Jharkhand, the study reveals. Loss of habitation in Dalma forest range and blocking the transit route in neighbouring Odisha was one of the reasons why the elephants stayed longer, resulting in conflicts in the region.

As per reports, as early as 1900, erstwhile Midnapore district had a significant number of elephants. The population dwindled over time and became small by 1980s due to loss of forest cover. But success of joint forest management in the three districts provided a good habitat for elephants.

Conflicts not only result in loss of lives, but also force the State government to pay a compensation running into crores for damage of crops and huts.

S Kulandaivel, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Wildlife (headquarters), said using force to drive out these elephants was no solution as it led to a greater damage.