Human-animal conflict: Data shows decline in fatalities in Kerala

In Kerala, 17 people lost their lives in elephant attacks during 2023-2024. This is a decrease from the 27 deaths reported in 2022-2023 and 35 in 2021-2022, per Forest Department data.
Last Updated 25 February 2024, 05:12 IST

Thiruvananthapuram: Amid escalating protests against wild animal attacks threatening lives and property in Kerala, particularly in the hill district of Wayanad, recent data from the State Forest Department shows that human fatalities resulting from such encounters have notably declined over the past three years.

According to Forest Department data available with the PTI, the number of fatalities due to elephant attacks in Kerala during the period 2023-2024 decreased compared to numbers recorded in 2021-2022.

In Kerala, 17 people lost their lives in elephant attacks during 2023-2024. This is a decrease from the 27 deaths reported in 2022-2023 and 35 in 2021-2022, it says.

These numbers, when compared to states like Odisha, Jharkhand and Karnataka, that are infamous for human-animal conflict, are much lesser. According to Forest sources in Jharkhand, over 100 people are killed annually in elephant attacks on an average.

The Karnataka Forest department reported 148 human fatalities due to human-elephant conflict in the last five years.

Additionally, Odisha, Assam, and West Bengal collectively lost 499, 385, and 358 people, respectively, in human-animal conflicts over the same five-year period, as stated by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in response to an RTI query.

The Kerala Forest department shows that over the past five years, fatalities from wild boar attacks have shown a significant increase in the state.

In 2016-2017, only four human casualties were reported in wild boar attacks, but by 2023-2024, this number had risen to 11, revealed the data.

Conversely, tiger attacks have resulted in one death per year for the last four years. Additionally, in 2023-2024, three deaths were reported due to Indian gaur attacks.

According to the data, instances of injuries in wild animal attacks have also decreased.

The highest number of injuries was reported during the 2020-2021 period, with 988 cases recorded. However, this number decreased to 758 during the 2021-2022 period, says the data.

Officials have highlighted that current data includes snake bite deaths in the tally of fatalities from wild animal attacks, potentially leading to a misleading perception of the numbers.

In Kerala, the hilly district of Wayanad has become the core area for human-animal conflict. Similar cases are also reported in Aralam in Kannur, Coimbatore-Palakkad border areas and in various areas of Idukki district.

Amid heightened protests in Wayanad following the recent deaths of two persons in elephant attacks, state forest officials underscored the necessity for coordinated efforts among all departments to prevent such incidents.

"Prevention of human-animal conflict is not an exclusive forest department work. Many other departments like revenue, LSGD and police also have an active role. All these departments have been working together with us to do whatever best we could do," D Jayaprasad, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden (PCCF&CWW), Kerala told PTI.

"We are implementing mitigation measures, including the development of a 'smart-fence' system for tigers and elephants, with a model set to be erected in the Chethalayam range in Wayanad," said Jayaprasad, who was present in Wayanad during violent protests triggered by recent elephant attacks resulting in two fatalities.

He said that the Kerala Forest Department has also urged a team from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which has arrived in Wayanad, to conduct an animal carrying capacity study not only within the hill district but also in the neighbouring forest areas of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

"We have told them that if the study finds excess animals above the carrying capacity, then we will translocate them," he added.

The official said there has been a remarkable improvement in the dispensation of compensation to the livestock and crop loss in wildlife attacks.

"Not even a penny will be pending towards compensation payment. All the backlogs have been cleared by the present government and we are getting excellent support from the Chief Minister to find a solution for the problem," Jayaprasad added.

"We have proposed a 50 per cent hike in compensation for fatal attacks and a two-fold increase in damage compensation to agriculture. This proposal is now under the consideration of the cabinet," another official said.

According to conservation and animal experts, the government and its departments only look for temporary solutions based on the intensity of the public protest.

"Most of the time the decisions are knee-jerk reactions aimed at temporary solutions. Nobody is looking for a scientific solution to the problem," said an elephant expert who works closely with various governments on animal data collection and conservation.

The expert, who did not wish to be named, highlighted two incidents concerning elephants in Wayanad: Belur Makhana the present problem elephant in Wayanad was captured from Belur, a low elephant dense area and put in Bandipur, a high elephant dense area by the Karnataka Forest department.

So he had no option but to move out to human settlements as already the area belonged to other elephants.

Similarly, Arikomban, the elephant from Munnar was first relocated to Periyar Tiger Reserve, a high elephant dense area and as he started moving out due to lack of territory, he was again captured and sent to Kalakkad- Mundanthurai reserve, a low elephant dense area. He has not established his territory there.

As per current estimates, Kerala approximately has an elephant population of 2,000 to 2,500.

Experts criticised the Kerala Forest department's proposal to conduct a carrying capacity study for elephants in Wayanad and surrounding areas, stating that such a study is not feasible due to the lack of established models for calculating the carrying capacity of elephants.

Dr P S Easa, noted expert on wild elephants, said while calculating carrying capacity might be possible for tigers based on prey population and territory availability, there are currently no methods available for elephants.

(Published 25 February 2024, 05:12 IST)

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