With Karnataka deciding to capture 65 conflict elephants in Hassan district, wildlife experts and activists call for a re-think. With capture operations going on, the state forest department has already captured 3-4 elephants in the adjacent area of Mudigere and another two elephants in Sakleshpur (last June).
As per Ministry of Environment and Forests’ written statement in the Parliament recently, 74 wild elephants have been captured and relocated in Hassan district between 2000-2022. Further, forest officials say out of the 23 radio-collared elephants in Karnataka state, 8 have been collared in Hassan district and their movements are being tracked.
Faced with rising human deaths, crop raiding elephants, and farmers’ anger, the state government recently announced the capture of a whopping 65 jumbos albeit in a risky terrain. Out of this, eight (8) elephants in Sakleshpur-Belur area will be captured on a priority basis.
Speaking to Green Minute, Karnataka APCCF (Wildlife) Kumar Pushkar said the operations are going on and it will be done in a phased manner. “65 resident elephants have been identified that randomly move around in the landscape of Belur-Alur-Yeslur-Sakleshpur. They are well settled here in groups with a few herds. Out of this, there is a family with a matriarch with 20+ jumbos. Apart from this, there are small herds with 3-4 animals and further all male groups.”
The APCCF (Wildlife) adds, “Elephant groups come and go from Mudigere and Kodagu side to Hassan frequently. Our forest staff keep vigil and they are controlled by driving them back. The migration of elephants from Kodagu towards Hassan landscape (coffee estates are green cover here) which is not a forest area, is not a suitable habitat for elephants. Earlier, in 2013-14, 22 elephants were captured and released in forest areas.”
For plugging in the entry of new elephants in the vacated area, rail barricade work has been taken up as they last longer. A 34-km-long barricade project has been taken up in this belt so that elephants are not able to cross over from Kodagu to Hassan, adds Kumar Pushkar.
“Presently, 20 kilometers is almost ready on the Hemavathi reservoir side (northern boundary) to cut the migration from Kodagu side. On the southern boundary, it is not necessary. The remaining 14 kms, proposal has been put up to the government and it will be ready by next year. With the completion of the first barricade project of 9.5 kms, work on the second project of 11.5 kms, is progressing.”
Forest officials add the capture operations in the Hassan landscape are very difficult and very risky especially for the staff. Darting operations will be carried out assisted by 2-3 veterinary doctors while planned and done in such a manner that there is minimal risk to both the staff and the elephants. “Our experience will help in knowing when and where to dart. There is no set target, capture operations will take some time…”
However, activists stress capture and relocation has not resolved the issue till date and being an election year, the state government has hurriedly taken such a decision. In fact, relocating elephants from their home ranges to a new range exacerbates the conflict and result in more human deaths, they add.
A wildlife expert said, “Even the 2013-14 operations was done in an election year and did not resolve the issue. Now how many of these jumbos survived? Some were sent to elephant camps, some collared elephants died in Kollegal while some died for what reasons, remains a mystery. Further, elephants are known to cross rail barricades as it has happened in Moleyur range, Bandipur recently.”
Now if 65 elephants must be captured in the affected area, there is need to complete all the barricade work so that new herds do not enter from the neighboring areas. Experts further add, “There is also need to take into confidence all stakeholders before taking up such a measure. Now, what is the use of capturing them without complete barricading? Such short- term measures to appease the people happens every time during elections only.”
Further, there is no permanent veterinary doctor or care and facilities available in Hassan district, informs an activist. “If something untoward happens, who is responsible for the jumbos’ welfare and safety? Collaring of elephants must be done properly based on scientific studies and the behavior pattern of the elephants. Further, in the aftermath of collaring, no human death should occur.”
There is nothing wrong in radio collaring of elephants as this is being done across conflict zones across the country.
A wildlife conservationist adds, “Collaring is being done but not scientifically as there is neither proper tracking nor monitoring. What is the use of collaring elephants if people cannot be alerted about incoming herds in their area? In this age of advanced technology, people must be alerted in real time about elephants in their villages and save human lives.”
Nagarjun Kumar, a concerned naturalist and research scholar was a witness to 2 human deaths in the Bandipur region in the aftermath of attacks by collared elephants.
He adds, “Home range elephants have never caused conflicts or human deaths as they know the landscape, know the entry, and exit points on the fringes of forests and the village boundaries and in fact, avoid humans on the forest fringes. However, collared elephants miss their home ranges and familiar territory and become lonely, angry, and erratic in their behavior which often results in attacks when entering human habitation.”
Presently, radio collaring seems to be done on an experimental basis to mitigate conflict on a short-term basis, adds Nagarjun Kumar.
“I would like to mention here an elephant in Mudhumalai which was collared by IISc, Bengaluru for studies. This elephant entered Bandipur range and entered our village later and attacked a person with serious consequences. It was captured later and sent to a kraal in Sakrebailu – imagine its plight. So, what is the use of spending crores of rupees on capture and collaring of elephants if conflict continues? Come what may, elephants normally return to their home range defeating the very purpose of capture.”
(ALL PHOTOS USED HERE ARE FOR EXPLANATORY PURPOSES ONLY)