Here is how Karnataka, which houses the largest number of elephants in the country, can address its human-animal conflict issue -
Karnataka, it has emerged in the last survey, is home to over 6,000 elephants. The state is ranked #1 in India in terms of elephant population. But it is also a state where a huge number of human-elephant conflict has been reported.
The state allocated Rs 200 crore in its budget earlier this year to handle the ‘elephant menace’ and has investing in and implementing various measures from rail fencing to radio collars.
But the formula to reduce the human-animal conflict and address the issue of their dwindling numbers in the larger context would be simply to reduce deforestation.
A recent study conducted by Jean-Philippe Puyravaud, Sanjay Gubbi, H.C. Poornesha, and Priya Davidar looks at the link between reduced forest cover and increase in man-elephant conflicts. The study which links deforestation to increase in frequency of ‘incidents with elephants’ covered an area of 45,710 sq km ranging from the Bhadra Tiger Reserve in the north to the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve in the south.
According to this paper, around 16 lakh acres of elephant habitat has been lost over the last four decades. Which is almost five times the size of Delhi or more than ten times the size of Bengaluru or Mumbai. And this has resulted in increase in incidents of human-elephant conflict in the region, which range from loss of crop to that of human life.
And of the total area of 6,761 sq km of elephant habitat that has been destroyed over the years, forests constituted an area of 4,000 sq km .
And apart from the shrinking habitats owing to transformation of forest cover mostly in private lands, deforestation has also severed the link between the Tiger Reserves of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve and the Bhadra Tiger Reserve most notably in the west (Kodagu District) and in the north of the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve (Hassan District).
But this was not the case historically. Quoting other studies, the paper looks at how the issue was handled in pre-colonial India - “Approximately seven to eight thousand retired soldiers, called Cundachars, were given land near the forests border of the studied region by regional royalty to repel elephants preferably without capturing or killing them. Farmers also took great care not to interfere with elephants and considered taboo to cross the paths of elephants.”
As incidents involving elephants are said to also occur within one to four km of the protected areas ( 80 per cent of the incidents took place within 4,000 m of the protected area), the study stresses on the need for special attention to be given to surrounding or buffer zones of protected areas.
According to the 2017 population estimate, of the 27,312 elephants in India, 6049 are in Karnataka. Which means 22 per cent of India’s total elephant population is in Karnataka. But if the state wishes to continue to bag the title of hosting the highest number of gentle giants in the country it will have to address its issues of declining forest cover.
For unless measures are taken to ensure the elephants have their homes in place and the connectivity between their area of movement and dwelling too kept intact, at the pace at which the destruction of habitat has been reported by the study, these mammoth mammals will soon be relegated to the pages of history.