Sedatives in short supply

Sedatives in short supply

It’s a typical ‘catch-22’ situation for the State Forest Department. Although there is the menace of wild elephants in Hassan and Kodagu districts, the Department is not in a position to take any action. Non-availability of drugs to tranquillise rogue elephants which are creating havoc in these districts is the reason.

The districts of Mysore, Hassan, Kodagu and Chamarajanagar have a large population of jumbos. The number of elephants has increased manifold. According to an estimate, there were around 2,500 elephants till a few years back in the State and now the population has crossed the 5,000-mark. At the same time, the forest cover is slowly shrinking because of human activity. Naturally, the pachyderms raid villages in search of food and kill those who come in the way.

In Hassan district, Alur, Sakleshpur and parts of Arkalgud have been identified as ‘elephant infested areas’. But the problem is serious in Alur and Sakleshpur taluks. The elephants camp near villages for 8-10 days and attack the fields when villagers are not on their guard. Fearing the elephants, the villagers have stopped keeping a vigil in their fields to protect the standing crops. People are even scared to cross thick forest areas during the day because of the movement of elephants.

A hub of jumbos
In Alur, the Doddabetta area has a large elephant population. The area is like a hub of jumbos. Recently, in separate incidents, wild jumbos trampled two persons to death. The issue of elephant menace has been a regular subject of discussion in the meetings of zilla panchayat, taluk panchayat or gram panchayat. The elected representatives squarely blame the forest officials for their failure to check the menace especially in Alur taluk. Ever since the year 2001 till date, 22 people have been trampled to death by wild jumbos and the damage caused to crops runs into lakhs of rupees. It has become a routine job for the Department to disburse compensation for those who are victims of elephant attacks, directly or indirectly.

But the real problem has been non-availability of two particular drugs that are crucial to nab rogue elephants by tranquillising them. Only one company from the United Kingdom manufactures these drugs and supplies them to all countries including India. The drugs are routed through the Nandankanan Zoo in Madhya Pradesh to rest of the country.  
It is supplied to all zoos and forest departments. While Immobilon is a sedative; Rivivon is used as a reviver. Unfortunately, both the drugs are not available in the country thus leaving the forest officials helpless. The stock in zoos and forest department of other states has been exhausted. Those drugs are supplied only once in two years. This has forced the State Forest Department to postpone its operation to nab rogue elephants indefinitely. “Without these drugs, it is not possible to launch the operation in elephant infested areas,” said an officer categorically. According to an estimate, there are 31 rogue elephants and a majority of them are tuskers.

It is impossible to nab these rogue elephants by way of techniques such as bursting crackers and using ropes. The Forest Department has nabbed two rogue elephants, but 31 of them are still roaming the forests. In fact, the Union Government has given permission to catch two rogue elephants more than two years ago; but non-availability of drugs has delayed ‘Operation Jumbo’.  The operation requires the support of sharp shooters and expert veterinarians. The sedative should be administered according to the weight of jumbos and each of them weigh not less than three to four tonnes. Once the sedative is given, the jumbo needs to be loaded into trucks with the help of tame elephants.

The officer, on the condition of anonymity, said the State Government has already written to the Union Government about the need to take necessary steps to import drugs from the United Kingdom following pressure from villagers about the elephant menace.
The Centre, so far, has not responded positively. Beyond corresponding with the government about the need to take the requisite steps, the Department is not in a position to do anything except keeping its fingers across till the drugs are procured and supplied to them.

Elephant park mooted for Hassan district
Setting up of an elephant park is the only solution to deal with the menace of wild elephants in Hassan district, according to Sakleshpur MLA H K Kumaraswamy.
Speaking to Spectrum, Kumaraswamy explains that in his constituency, as many as 150 villages in three hoblis out of the total ten hoblis, have man-elephant conflict. The intensity of the problem has increased by the day and over the last one-and-a-half years, as many as eight persons have been trampled to death by elephants. The Sri Lankan Government has set up an elephant park and successfully addressed the problem. The State and Union Governments should come forward to set up the elephant park as it the only permanent solution.

Plenty of land is available in Hassan district and the park could be established near the backwaters of the River Hemavathy. This could also be developed as a tourist spot. However, the Forest Department is not ready to submit a report to the Centre and State governments in this regard. Children have stopped going to schools and farmers have stopped tilling land due to fear of elephants. The elephants are so intelligent that they raid fields that are not solar fenced. The people are so fed up with the elephant menace that it is feared that they may take law into their hands if there is further delay on the part of government. “We are so scared to go to the villages in case of the death of a villager because of an elephant attack. People are becoming restless and they want an early solution for it,” the MLA explains.  In fact, Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa had announced setting up of the elephant park two years ago; but the promise has not been fulfilled.  Now the people of over 150 villages are urging the government to shift them to safer places as translocation of rogue elephants is still a non-starter. There is need to strike a balance between human beings and wildlife as both are equally important, he added.

Radio collaring planned
According to sources, the Forest Department is planning to radio collar two rogue elephants in order to study their movements. The Centre has already given permission to translocate two jumbos and it will be taken up after they get the medicines to tranquillise jumbos. Those two radio collared elephants will be shifted to other forests to study their movements. This plan is yet to take shape, though.

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