The conflict that turns man into animal

Human menace: After taking over elephants territory, people now kill them too

Not a stray instance: A file photo of the mother elephant that refused to leave the side of the two calves that were electrocuted at a farmland in Vatepura village, Alur, in January this year. DH PhotosNot many people seem to be aware of the irony in slaughtering an animal which is worshipped as an avatar of Ganesh, as the travails of poor farmers has only been intensified by the continuous intrusion of the wild beasts into human habitation and cultivated fields, as their natural habitat is encroached upon by man.

Instances of wild animals leaving forests bursting at their seams, and coming into direct contact with humans has become a growing worry for wildlife experts and authorities, who till date have failed to find a long term solution to the problem.

In the interim, the poor farmers and the beasts continue to cope with the results of vigorous development, shrinking forest space, improper planning, intolerance and greed, directly resulting in dire consequences.

An island of no escape

Alur taluk in Hassan district is not only a living example of this story, but it is a ticking time bomb, indicating that the worst is yet to come.

Today, close to 30 elephants are trying to co-exist with a population of 85,000-odd humans in an area of 40,265 hectares (429 sq.km). A majority of the area (28,752 ha) is under cultivation.

A meagre 477 ha in Doddabetta forests, is what the elephants are left with. This is about 1.2 per cent of the total extent of the taluk, and according to the State Forest Department, the elephant habitat is only 0.85 per cent of the total area!

The Gorur dam project (the backwaters of which broke the link between Kattepura and Doddabetta forests), bamboo flowering (the flowering wipes out the major staple diet of the elephants), encroachments by coffee estate owners, and illicit liquor (elephants are greatly attracted to liquor, and Alur and surrounding taluks are thriving hubs for illicit liquor manufacturers), have virtually trapped the secluded beasts within Alur.

The conflict

The result? Eighteen elephants died between 2002 and 2011, seven of electrocution. The most gruesome fatality was of three elephant calves, which touched live wires in January this year.

On January 6, a herd of nine elephants were making their way through the Vatepura village. Two calves came in contact with the hanging electric wires in the farmland of Poovaiah and Palangappa, and immediately died. One calf was five months old, and the other a year old. The mother of the five-month-old refused to let go of her calf for three days, trumpeting in anguish and anger even as thousands of villagers crowded around to watch her suffer her bereavement. The same herd lost its third calf soon after, in Ballarakoppal village in a farm owned by K N Chandrashekar.

In both instances, cases were registered under Forest and Electricity Acts, but the authorities have failed to arrest Poovaiah, Palangappa and Chandrashekar, for the fear of provoking the villagers.

Human toll

Humans too have been victims of the man-animal conflict. As many as 11 people have been killed by elephants in the last decade, including the two deaths this year.
The department has registered 6,103 cases of crop damage in the last 10 years and has paid a compensation of Rs 87.3 lakh to the farmers.

Alur Range forest watcher ‘Aane’ Venkatesh, says the situation in the taluk is highly critical. Villagers are fed up of the everyday conflict.

“Rampant encroachments, especially by coffee plantation owners have shrunk the forest space further. The estates are all solar fenced, forcing the elephants to tread the same village roads as the farmers and eat their crops including coffee seeds. The villagers have taken the matter into their own hands by leaving electric wires hanging loose in their fields,” says Venkatesh.

Mammoth problem of managing the mastodons

The Ministry of Environment and Forests, state forest department and wildlife conservationists have been exploring solutions to the problem of elephants straying into human habitations.

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