"Learning to live with elephants" is now the mantra of the Maharashtra forest department and in that, they are now been told by the Centre to prepare the areas in Kolhapur for elephant habitation.
With funds under Project Elephants promised for the state, the forest department is trying desperately to reduce man-animal conflict and make the area a safe home for the pachyderms.
Though environmentalists demand a three-state elephant zone and contiguous forest range which will also help preserving vital resources like water, it was out of bounds for the forest department, claimed officials.
These elephants travelled for over 200 kms from Dandeli forests in Karnataka to Maharashtra. Though this was their common migration route, this is the first time that they have come so far and are not going back.
“We are trying to make the area and the forest hospitable for the animals by planting different kinds of trees which will provide them food and they will not need to come out of the forest. That is the priority at the moment,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) B Majumdar.
The state for a change, is not engaging in bureaucratic debates of which state the elephants belong to. “We need to do something to protect them which the Centre also accepts. Isn’t it great that the state now also has elephant in its wildlife variety?” he said.
Also, forest department is urging the villagers to change the crop patterns. “Currently the farmers are cultivating paddy, banana and nuts which are favourite of the elephants. We are trying to teach them what kind of crop they need to cultivate,” he added.
“There will not be any attempts at diverting them — that will be a disaster. There will be too many casualties and other conflicts,” he added.
Instead, providing them with adequate food supply will ensure no damage to the crop and human habitation. After the area is earmarked, it may get fenced as well.
But the environmentalists are against the idea of fencing and claim that the Centre should, instead, ensure that the elephant corridor it maintained and the whole area bordering Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra as a reserve.
“The whole are should be earmarked as a reserve securing the passage which will ensure them to move freely throughout the range,” said Bittu Sahgal.
Agrees wildlife expert Anish Andheria. “Elephants are great migrants and they are capable of moving hundreds of kilometers in search of food and proper habitation.
"But the movement depends the number of calves, their physical capabilities of traveling as well as the availability of corridors. Since they are not going back along their usual route and have been moving up north, they are here to stay,” he said.