Govt hires elephant whisperers to stop damage to crops in villages
The Indian state of Maharashtra has decided to create dedicated corridors for elephants in over 100 villages bordering Kolhapur and Sindhudurg districts. The state forest department will also provide food and shelter for the animals, and sensitise people to co-exist with them. The department is also planning elephant safaris in these villages and has sought the help of the central government in conserving the elephants. Over 70 villages have been complaining about the damage done by herds of elephants that reportedly come from neighbouring states, but the state government has now appointed a team of elephant communicators to work with villagers and forest officials.
Mumbai: Contrary to its earlier stand of deporting elephants to their states of origin, the state government has now taken an animal-friendly approach and decided to create dedicated corridors for the pachyderms in over 100 villages bordering Kolhapur and Sindhudurg districts. Besides making arrangements for their food and shelter, and sensitising people on co-existing with them, the state forest department is also planning elephant safaris in these villages and has sought the help of the central government in conserving them.
Over 70 villages in the Chandgad and Ajara tehsils in Kolhapur and an equal number villages from Dodamarg and other tehsils in Sindhudurg have been complaining about the damage done by herds of elephants that reportedly come from neighbouring states. Farmers and villagers have been demanding the deportation of the tuskers along with compensation for the damage done to their crops. In December last year, forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar announced that the elephants would be deported to their state of origin via a special drive. However, when the process against the “errant” tuskers began, the forest department realised that this was a wrong approach.
“Rather than driving them away, convincing people to learn to exist with them was important,” said a forest official. “Studies have revealed that elephants do not harm people or damage crops and property if they are given adequate food and are not disturbed in their habitat. We have now undertaken a drive to safeguard their corridor, make food available to them and establish an animal-friendly approach to avoid man-animal conflict.”
The state government has now appointed a team of elephant communicators to work with villagers and forest officials. “First of all, it’s a misconception that the elephants are migrants from other states,” said Anand Shinde of Trunk Call Wildlife Foundation, the group appointed by the government. “There is historical proof to establish that elephants were part of the jungle in these bordering districts of Maharashtra. They damage the cane and paddy fields only when they search for food, which is not available in their jungle corridors. The best way to restrict them to these corridors is to pacify them with food and water. When awareness is created among people to treat them in a friendly, humane manner, the damage can be nullified.”
Shinde said the team’s efforts in Kolhapur villages had started paying dividends, with villagers joining them. “Before our appointment, we worked on a pilot project for four months in these villages,” he said. “We held group meetings and interactive sessions with villagers to convince them that beating drums, bursting crackers and using lit torches to drive away the elephants would not work. After a certain point, the tuskers get used to all this. Instead, we can establish communication with them. We showed the villagers videos of how communication with even wild and ‘trouble-making’ elephants in Tadoba and sanctuaries in Orissa and Kerala were tamed by the simple act of communication.”
The communication classes began with Shinde’s team patrolling with villagers and teaching them how to establish friendly relations with the elephants and communicate with them. “The elephants do ‘talk’ to humans—our language is not a barrier,” he said. “For instance, if you request them to go away, they do listen.”
The team is also making efforts to provide the animals with food by growing grass and bamboo, and making sugarcane available to them. “Dedicated corridors are being established so that they do not enter the human habitat,” said Shinde. “We have also undertaken a tree plantation drive to stop them from coming out of the jungle.”
Mungantiwar, reiterating the modus operandi, said that since the number of elephants was on the rise in Maharashtra, the government was tapping this particular plan. “We are also writing to the central government to allow us to use CSR funding for wildlife conservation,” he said.