Manish Chandra Mishra | Jan 14, 2021 | 5 min read
Since the start of monsoons, Khelavan Singh, a farmer from Mahaman village, Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh, has been attempting to sow paddy in his farm. However, a herd of wild elephants destroy his field each time he sows the seeds. Another farmer from Mankhecha village in the same district, Sahpal Singh, voiced similar concerns. He stated that unlike wild boars or deers, wild elephants can destroy entire agricultural farms and it’s becoming a menace.
Situated near the Bandhavgarh National Park, Mahaman village and a few neighbouring villages—Gadpuri, Sulkhaniya, Pator and Panpatha—have been experiencing a number of attacks by wild elephants. Not only destruction to crop, but the wild animals also destroy villagers’ properties. These kind of disturbances are becoming increasingly regular in the area. In 2018, a herd of about 40 elephants moved from Chhattisgarh to Madhya Pradesh, and it was the first time that the state had an elephant colony. The elephant herd is now active in around three national parks of MP, Sanjay National Park, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and Kanha Tiger Reserve. According to Population Estimation of Elephants in India, 2017, only seven elephants are present in the state.
Sahpal stated that a herd of elephants attacked his house in April. “There were four elephants in the group, out of which three barged into my house. My family including my wife and three children were sleeping in the house," he said. While he and his wife managed to escape, his children were stuck in the house and were injured. The elephants damaged the house and were able to destroy the stored rice and wheat, he added.
Increasing deforestation pushing tuskers to MP: Ex-forest officer
In September 2019, a resident of Sajwahi village, which is under Panpatha beat of the tiger reserve, lost his house after a group of elephants attacked his village. According to him, three dozen elephants attacked his village and destroyed the paddy crop. When the villagers tried to save their crops, the elephants entered into the residential area of the village and damaged many houses.
Mridul Pathak, a retired forest officer who has served as the field director of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, told Mongabay-India that Madhya Pradesh mostly has tigers, but elephants are new to the region. He explained that elephants used to come to MP for food and water and return to their respective places. "Elephants usually expand their herd and this is the reason why they are searching for new areas. Chattisgarh is facing deforestation and habitat degradation, and because of which the incidents of man-animal conflict occur very often," said Pathak.
Elephants move from Odisha and Jharkhand to adjoining areas in Chhattisgarh and MP as these states have an abundance of bamboo, standing crops and water, which attracts them, he added.
In April, three persons were killed by a herd of wild elephants in Madhya Pradesh's Anuppur district. Of the 161 villages in the buffer zone of the 1,536-sq km national park area in the Bandhavgarh National Park, around 50 villages have been impacted by the elephant movement, according to forest officials. To avoid instances of man-animal conflict, the state forest department tracks the movement of elephants and takes measures like spraying water on the elephant herd and also feeding them banana to keep them away from villages.
Vincent Rahim, field director, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, told Mongabay-India that they keep track of the elephants’ movement using the Global Positioning System. He added that the current period is essential for elephants as they would use this time to get to know the area and find resources for food and water, and that’s why they are moving a lot.
He mentioned that they have called for experts from other states, to help train the staff. The state forest department has started campaigns to make people aware of the steps they can take to protect themselves from the elephant attacks, he added.
Lack of funds
Pushpendra Nath Dwivedi, Umaria-based wildlife conservationist, stated that the awareness programmes help villager to understand how elephants are useful for nature. “We use methods like PowerPoint presentations and one-to-one interactions to make villagers aware of the movement of elephants and how they can protect themselves from being attacked," he added.
He shared that elephants are active in Bamera, Machkheta, Damna, Gata, Badmera, Mahaman and Gohdi villages, so they have intensified their awareness drive in those villages.
“I see the frustration of villagers after a group attack against their village or damaged crops. The absence of compensation adds to it. However, I explain the importance of an elephant in seed dispersal. The seeds of fruits they consume pass through their guts, come out undigested with the dung and germinate when conditions are right," Dwivedi added.
Talking about destruction by elephants, Rahim stated that though there is plenty of food in the forest, elephants, especially the young ones, are curious by nature. Sometimes, the elephants damage solar panels used for solar pumps, he added.
As per the government data, 325 people and 70 elephants lost their lives in the last five years, with an average of 65 people and 14 elephants per annum. The loss of lives, property, and crops led to an extra burden of Rs 75 crore on the government, it added.
Rahim mentioned that villagers receive compensation when a person is killed by an animal, but there is no compensation for property damage, however, they have written to the state revenue department to compensate the affected villagers.
Forest department officials say that the Madhya Pradesh forest department is lacking funds and at present, there is no separate provision of fund for managing elephants. "The department has written to the central government to allocate funds under Project Elephant," informed Rahim.
Project Elephant (PE), a centrally sponsored scheme, was launched in February 1992 to provide financial and technical support to major elephant-bearing states in the country for protection of elephants, their habitats and corridors. It also seeks to address the issues of human-elephant conflict and the welfare of domesticated elephants.
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