Conflict for space between man and elephant has led to a poignant situation where the villagers of Madukarai, near Coimbatore, will soon build a temple in memory of three elephants killed by a train near their village on January 4.
Two male elephants and a pregnant female elephant were run over by a passenger train during the early hours, as the engine driver was unable to spot them due to heavy fog. In the trauma the female elephant delivered the baby, which was born dead.
“We were running scared all these days when the elephants raided our fields and ran very close to our homes, but we never wanted such an end to their lives. We, in fact, are angry with the forest department for not sending them back into the forests,” said V. Muthukumar, a local activist.
The villagers’ decision to build a temple was prompted by popular belief that the death of pregnant elephant could spell bad tidings for the region.
Wildlife enthusiasts said that the elephants cannot be blamed for straying on to the railway track since the low mountain plains of Coimbatore forest range had been their grazing fields for centuries.
“All the five elephant corridors in this district on the Western Ghats have seen untrammeled construction in the past one decade disrupting the free movement of elephants,” pointed out S. Kalidas of Osai, an NGO fighting for the protection of elephants.
The shrubby plains and the lower reaches of Western Ghats in Coimbatore district has seen the construction of engineering colleges, universities, a handful of ashrams and tourist resorts. This has directly cut into the roaming terrain of the elephants, whose population too has increased from 210 to 305 in the last five years, forest officials said.
“The hilly regions of the Ghats in this area are quite steep so the elephants prefer the reserve forests or adjacent shrub land at the foothills. Unfortunately the shrub lands, which are only 50 to 100 km wide have been cleared and built upon, directly encroaching the grazing areas of elephants,” pointed out District Forest Officer Anwar Dheen.
Also the sinking of borewells by human occupants has led to the drying up of water holes in the reserve forests, which again force the pachyderms to come into human inhabited areas in search of water. The fateful trek across the railway track on January 4 was towards a small lake on the other side of the village, locals said.