A rapid shrinking of habitat and several crucial elephant corridors in Uttarakhand has led to an alarming rise in man-pachyderm conflict, leaving casualties on both sides and the state grappling to address a long-standing problem.
Since the state was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000, over 100 people have been killed in conflicts with pachyderm till November, 2014, officials said. During the same period, 123 elephants have been killed in accidents as well as poaching, they added.
Uttarakhand, in fact, is virtually facing a crisis situation with rapid urbanisation and population growth leading to increasing instances of humans coming in direct contact with wildlife, often with disastrous consequences.
Attacks by leopards and even tigers have left several persons dead and injured in the state over the past few months, forcing the authorities to order killing of a few big cats.
On Tuesday, a teenage girl from Delhi was trampled to death by a wild elephant during a visit to the Rajaji National Park with her family.
Though not a case of conflict in the strictest sense of the term, the incident highlighted the growing irritation among elephant population due to continuous harassment by humans, experts pointed out.
Though the last census held way back in 2007 had put the elephant population at 1,346, wildlife officials estimated their number at present to be over 1,600.
Wildlife experts HT spoke to called for steps to free elephant corridors from human encroachment and allow ample space for the state’s pachyderm population to move from one forest to another in search of food as well as mating partners.
“Why blame the animal alone? Elephants need huge areas to move around. There territories cannot be defined. Wildlife enthusiasts have given several suggestions to the government but we are (still) awaiting a response,” said Brijendra Singh, honorary director of Corbett National Park.
Forest officials said that the human-elephant conflict was particularly severe in the Shivalik range of Dehradun and Haridwar districts, Haldwani forest division straddling Nainital and Champawat district besides Pauri and Udhamsingh Nagar districts.
Besides killing and injuring humans, rampaging elephant herds are also known to damage standing crops and destroy settlements.
This, in turn, prompts the villagers to target the elephants, sometimes by way of paying poachers to get rid of the “menace”, sources said.
Forest department sources said that the corridors which are facing human encroachment are the Rajaji-Corbett corridor, Chilla-Motichur corridor, Khatima-Surai corridor, Boom-Baramdev corridor along the Indo–Nepal border and Gola corridor in Kumaon.
In a study on Uttarakhand’s wildlife, one expert AJT John Singh had recommended removing encroachments from crucial elephant corridors “on a priority basis”.
Brijendra Singh said the root cause of the problem was lack of food for the pachyderms and that there was an urgent need to plant elephant grass and bamboo in the forest areas where the mammals are active.
“It is all about food. Elephants are not getting enough food in their area and therefore are moving out to human settlements,” he added.
Forest minister Dinesh Agarwal admitted to the problem but added that the government was working on plans to mitigate human-elephant conflict.
“Solutions do not come instantly. The problem should be seen in totality. We are seeking funds from the Centre to relocate people living in areas falling within corridors,” he added.