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World Elephant Day- Talking Conflicts (12 August 2020)

World Elephant Day- Talking Conflicts (12 August 2020)

Why in News:

More than 500 people and 100 elephants die every year due to conflict with each other, officials of the environment ministry said on Monday. Releasing the figures at an event ahead of World Elephant Day on August 12, the officials said interactions between humans and elephants have led to the death of both.

Context:

As per the last census conducted in 2017, India is home to 30,000 elephants. Addressing the event, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said elephant conservation is vital as it balances the ecosystem. Elephants have to be kept in forests for which fodder and water augmentation programme has been initiated, the minister said, adding that by next year results will start showing.

Background:

World Elephant Day is an international annual event on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world's elephants.

The goal of International Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants, and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants.

Elephants are endangered and protected under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and also the UN Convention for Migratory Species. They are also officially recognized as a National Heritage Animal in India with the highest protection under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Sixty percent of Asia’s elephants (and 50 percent of the world’s) live in India, across 18 states. At last count, there were close to 27,000 wild elephants — including those found in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands — and around 2,500 in captivity. The Southern belt of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, with their interconnected forests, provides a wider range for elephants to roam, and is perhaps why they’re found here in the largest numbers.

Between 1987 and 2018, 249 elephants were killed on railway lines passing through elephant habitats. Forty-nine from among these were killed in just three years — 2015 to 2018. Nearly 50 elephants also die every year due to electrocution.

Elephant population in the country is estimated at 29,964 as per the census conducted in 2017.

Summary of the Debate

Challenges:

  • New habitations are coming to the forest area.
  • Habitat loss and fragmentation.
  • Blockage of the corridor.
  • A lot of corridor falls in non protected areas.
  • The problem of the elephants is more food based and migration roads based.
  • Encroachment of human beings in wildlife habitats for residential purposes and the expansion of cities.
  • Some of the road networks even pass through protected areas leading to accidents due to expanding road networks and increase in vehicular traffic.
  • Tourism without proper guidelines disturbs animal habitats.
  • Man animal conflicts are also caused by the unscientific structures and practices of forest management in the country.
  • There are so many cases of land use transformations such as change from protected forest patches to agricultural and horticultural lands and monoculture plantations, which are further destroying the habitats of wildlife.  

Human-elephant conflict kills 1,713 people, 373 pachyderms in 3 ...

Project Elephant

Project Elephant was launched in 1992 by the Government of India Ministry of Environment and Forests to provide financial and technical support to wildlife management efforts by states for their free-ranging populations of wild Asian Elephants. The project aims to ensure the long-term survival to the populations of elephants in their natural habitats by protecting the elephants, their habitats and migration corridors. Other goals of Project Elephant are supporting the research of the ecology and management of elephants, creating awareness of conservation among local people, providing improved veterinary care for captive elephants.

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Striking a balance between Infrastructure development, Wildlife and Ecology:

  • One of the things which is to be remembered is as when economic development happens in a region the people depending on the forest living in the vicinity of the forest their number goes down, as a result the chances of conflict reduces, for instance in the case of West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, these are one of the least developed and highly populated districts where the economic opportunity of the people residing in the vicinity of the forest is very low.
  • Urbanisation would provide a better economic opportunity; people would certainly move away from the forest areas and will go to urban areas for employment.
  • Elevated roads, elevated rail corridors would provide a safe passage for the animals without fragmenting the habitat further, they can meet the requirement of physical infrastructure as well as keep the movement of wild animals without compromising it.
  • The other options which have been practised and worked to some extent in the case of North-East Frontier Railway have been using the amplified version of honey bees sound to ward off elephants from tracks. They have been using it effectively since 2003 and it has reduced the death of elephants.
  • Real time tracking of the elephants would help in forewarning the people.
  • The development and the ecological integrity can go hand in hand provided all the decisions are driven by primarily the science and bit of pragmatism and science should take lead in decision making rather than the emotions.
  • Science primarily dealing with the population management of the elephants and carrying capacity that how much a protective area covered in the country and forest can sustain the population these animals should be the guiding principles without too much manipulation of the natural way of limiting the population like the forage and food and pragmatism with regard to expecting the farmers to switch over the crops which are not like the by the elephants is not pragmatic. 
  • The wildlife management cannot be seen in isolation that has to be seen in the entirety of the development of the communities and people living in the vicinity of those protected areas as well as the wildlife per se.
  • It is important to prevent animals from moving to the villages.

Important points made by the Guests

Ashok Pai, Former Chief Conservator of Forests, Uttarakhand  

  • There is no sort of one solution fits for all the regions; it varies from region to region precisely because of the Socio-economic conditions and the physiography of the area as well as the type of forest and population of elephants which are habiting those regions.
  • Given this situation, one of the things which have been practiced across the world and India is physical barrier in terms of fences, such as electric fencing, solar fencing, so elephants move away from raiding the crops and creating conflicts.
  • In addition to this, there have been instances of an attempt to change the cropping pattern, but the problem there is that most of the people residing in these area are small farmers, who grow food for their own consumption and making them changing the cropping pattern is a difficult task, because they grow what is economical for them and give them food security.
  • There have been attempts in the world across to use the population management practices which include culling of elephants, for example in Kruger National Park and in Zimbabwe, but culling is not an option in India.
  • There are other measures with regard to the population management, especially the contraception is one of the processes which may appear bit expensive, but that works for human being and other animals.
  • Translocation of the elephants from the densely populated areas to the areas which are less populated by the animals and the humans.
  • Issue of growing forage and the food in forest areas is a debatable issue for a simple reason that the food and forage has always been a limiting factor for population growth and providing more food and forage may not help in population management per se. Rather going for crops within the forest which may virtually make the fodder forest for the elephants, but again ecologically it is not a desirable thing.     
  • The propensity of the conflict of elephants and human is much more in the Eastern India, such as West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand than in other parts of the country.
  • There are large number of people getting killed in West Bengal between 2015 and 2018. About more than 300 people killed in West Bengal equal number in Jharkhand and Odisha and so also elephants get killed in the process.
  • The measure regarding manipulating the natural process may be counterproductive in the long run.
  • The key issue which needs to be addressed based on the carrying capacity of the area or the propensity of the conflict which is happening in those areas.

Achintya Singh, Wildlife Photographer

  • Only 22 percent of the elephant habitat is found in the protected area network, the remaining elephant range lies outside in places which are now overrun by the people.
  • Elephants eat up to 300 kgs of fodder in a day and they are always looking for more nutritional food sources.
  • They migrate from one National park to another and in the process, the pre-existing corridor, which is now overrun by the people and now slowly converting into farmlands are all farms and those farms are further crop raided.
  • Recently, in the last 40 to 50 years there have been no reports of wild elephants from central India, but elephants have traveled from Odisha to Madhya Pradesh, crossing two states they have reached Bandhavgarh National Park and they are staying there. In the last ten years, there are the elephants staying in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve and they have become residents because of the sugarcane farms present near the park.

Noyal Thomas, IG, Project Elephant  

  • One of the reasons for more number of Human-Elephant conflicts in the Northeast region is development activities like mining is the major problem than a network of roads, bridges and township. 
  • The government is providing lots of plans and programs, the infrastructure, development based plans and design, it provides so many options and mitigation measures, but unfortunately, that is not happening.
  • So, it has to avoid such areas while designing it so these issues will not come up.
  • It has to be community-based mitigation of the conflict because the government has to take care of the communities and involve the community in mitigation measures and take care of the loss of livelihood.

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