West Bengal is planning a jumbo rehab effort. It plans to send 18 elephants that have damaged crops and terrorised villagers to rehabilitation centres for ‘delinquent’ tuskers.
Incidents of elephants straying into residential areas have been rising in the state. Stray elephants accounted for 89 deaths in West Bengal in 2014-15. Across India, the toll was 391, highlighting the growing man-animal conflict, as wildlife habitat comes under increased pressure to meet the country’s economic goals.
The forest department had identified 18 animals that have been straying into villages and had a month ago sought the Centre’s permission to capture them, forest minister Binoy Krishna Barman said.
“We are, however, dead against killing of elephants. In no way would we allow culling of animals like we’ve seen in a few states,” Barman said.
The minister was talking about some states getting permission to cull monkeys, blue bulls (nilgai) and wild boars after the Centre agreed to declare them vermin. These animals, the state governments said, were causing crop damage.
According to the official estimates, every year stray, or breakaway, elephants destroy crops standing on 2,500 to 3,000 acres in Bengal. Saddled with huge debts, the state government struggles to compensate famers for the losses.
The state was planning two centres for captured elephants, source said. “We are planning to come up with two such rehab and rescue centres – one in North Bengal in Buxa tiger reserve and the other in south Bengal inside the Mayurjharna elephant reserve,” a wildlife department official said.
Once an elephant -- usually a lone male -- starts raiding farmland, it is identified and tracked everyday by forest staff. A shorter trunk, a puncture in the ear, tuft of hair on the tail or a broken tusk are the distinguishing marks that forest guards and villagers rely on to differentiate the rogue animal from others.