Call it a victory for jumbos and wildlife enthusiasts. The land which was once an important elephant corridor and was later being cultivated, has now been reclaimed by the Forest Department from farmers in Chamarajanagar district.
As many as 23 acres of land in Yedaralli and Dodda Sampige villages cultivated by farmers for the last so many years have been reclaimed by the Department thanks to the initiative of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), an internationally acclaimed non-governmental organisation.
The Trust cajoled, convinced and coaxed farmers who were tilling this land to sell them the same. Finally, the farmers complied and formally handed over the land to forest officials of Chamarajanagar Wildlife Division. This could not have been possible for the department had the WTI not taken steps in this regard.
Many decades ago, an elephant corridor existed from Chamarajanagar and the pachyderms moved around freely without any problems. As long as the corridor was intact and free from encroachments, the jumbos did not sway from their path and therefore, didn’t cause any problems for farmers.
When man meddled with elephants...
Trouble started after farmers encroached upon the elephant corridor and started cultivation. In the absence of the usual path, wild jumbos went astray raiding villages and feeding on the standing crops. Soon, this snowballed into a major problem and steps were taken to restrict the jumbos inside forests.
The department paid compensation worth lakhs of rupees every year for the damage inflicted by wild elephants and also for the death of innocent farmers. This led to man-elephant conflict in the region, particularly after farmers started drawing electricity stealthily and connecting it to fences to prevent wild elephants from damaging crops. Many elephants were electrocuted in the process. Villagers constantly looked for innovative methods to keep the elephants at bay.
After taking all these factors into consideration, the WTI held due consultations with the government and identified 23 acres in Yedaralli and Dodda Sampige villages that were once part of the elephant corridor. Subsequently it purchased land from respective owners and handed over the same to the forest department. The deal was also acceptable for farmers because frequent elephant raids on their fields had left them distraught.
Mysore, Chamarajanagar and Kodagu districts have a majority of the elephant population in the state. The population of jumbos which was around 2,500 in the 1980s has now doubled, much to the worry of foresters. According to estimates, there are 600 wild elephants in Biligirirangana Temple Sanctuary in Chamarajanagar. It is very difficult to count the exact number of elephants as they are always on the move, foraging for food. On the one hand, the population has increased and on the other hand the forest cover is also shrinking due to various reasons. Under these circumstances, a crucial option that the department had was to reclaim agricultural land (that was once part of the elephant corridor) to restrict the movement of elephants in that path. Elephant behaviour
A senior forest officer who has been studying the behaviour of elephants for the last three decades told Spectrum that the jumbos, always move in their path and never go zig-zag. However, they go astray if the path is occupied by human beings who have converted it into fields.
Elephants are very sensitive animals and they are good as long as they see no danger from man. But they turn wild as a defence mechanism, or if man tries to harm them, he explained.
Deputy Conservator of Forests of Chamarajanagar Wildlife Division Vishwajit Mishra said reclaiming 23 acres of land is really helpful for the department to provide a path for the wild elephants. The department is preparing a project report to take up massive plantation in that land in order to give it a forested look and make it easy for elephants. The agricultural land is being levelled and all the obstructions that were hampering easy movement of pachyderms have been removed. Filling up the trenches...
In fact, the department had built the Elephant Proof Trenches (EPTs) all along Dodda Sampige village in order to prevent elephants from venturing out of the forests. Now they are filling up those EPTs at many places. The WTI activists conducted a scientific study in both the places and the results are positive. The elephants have started moving in the corridor freely without any fear of man. The immediate task before the Trust is to create awareness among local villagers that the 23-acre land is now an elephant corridor and a protected forest.Vital in terms of ecology
Mishra explains that the elephant corridor is very important in terms of ecology. Any kind of impediments should not be there, he points out. The genetic coding is fixed when it comes to passages and paths in each elephant and it moves accordingly. Though the corridor is very small in size it is very important when it comes to wild animals especially elephants. Any disturbances result in cross breeding. The restoration of the elephant corridor is not to reduce man-elephant conflict but to ensure that the habitat is not disturbed.
The restoration of elephant corridor would not have been possible without the help of WTI. In fact, the NGO has identified three corridors in BRT sanctuary of which one has been restored. The identification of corridor is based on the systematic study by taking into account movement of elephants and other aspects. Although a beginning has been made now, it would take at least four to five years for the pachyderms to feel no danger in treading on the corridor.
The Chamarajanagar model could be adopted to check frequent raiding by elephants in places which are identified as elephant-prone areas. Already, some taluks in Hassan and Kodagu districts are facing this problem and it could be addressed by restoring the corridor.