Elephant Death in Kerala & Focus on Man-Animal Conflict
TOPIC: General Studies 3
- Environment and Conservation
In News: Primary investigation into the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala has found that it may have accidentally consumed a cracker-stuffed fruit, the Environment ministry said. The ministry also noted that many times locals resort to an illegal act of planting explosive-filled fruits to repel wild boars from entering plantation farms.
The 15-year-old elephant consumed a pineapple filled with powerful firecrackers which exploded in its mouth in the Silent Valley forest. The fruit exploded in her mouth, causing severe burn injuries because of which she was unable to eat. Her traumatic death was caused by starvation. She suffered for days, and yet amazingly, was compassionate enough not to trample through the village or destroy our fields in anger and pain. Her last hours were spent standing in the Velliyar river, her trunk and wounded mouth submerged in water.
Snaring is a practice that is widely used in different parts of the country to kill wild animals. An edible item is packed with explosives or chemicals or glass pieces, so as to make sure an animal is deceived, and killed…The issue received national attention and was trending on social media for several days.
- One of three extant recognised subspecies of the Asian elephant and native to mainland Asia
- Listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List
- The wild population has declined by at least 50% since the 1930s
- Threatened by loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat
Elephant is an endangered species included in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The animals included in Schedule 1 need high level of protection. The Schedule provides for the certificate of ownership and makes it mandatory for the elephant owners to provide adequate facilities for the housing, maintenance and upkeep of captive elephants.
- It is a flagship programme of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)
- Launched in 1992 it is a Centrally-sponsored scheme
- Primarily aimed at protecting elephant, their habitats and corridors
- It addresses issues of man-animal conflict and welfare of domesticated elephants.
The current crisis
The outrage over the death of the elephant is misplaced. Whenever an animal is declared vermin by a state government, they use all sorts of cruel ways to kill the animals without any dignity whatsoever. Wild boars are declared vermin in Kerala. That means that they do not enjoy the protection given to wild animals under the Wildlife Protection Act.
Between 2015 and 2018, India lost dense forest cover the size of Kolkata, though the Forest Survey of India (FSI) 2019 reports an increase in green cover. Moderately dense forests have also shrunk. Apart from the obvious impact for climate change—FSI 2019 reports the loss of old forests in the north-eastern states, apart from a dip in the carbon stock of Indian forests—the loss of such cover, across states that are known for wildlife diversity, has meant human-wildlife conflicts steadfastly remaining high. As per the environment ministry, nearly 2,400 people have been killed by elephants alone between 2014-2015 and 2018-2019, while tigers have killed 221 people between 2014 and 2018.
The Centre has paid nearly `6 crore between 2014 and 2018, under Project Tiger, to states as assistance for compensation to families of people killed by tigers—for wildlife habitat development, between FY15 and FY19, it gave the states Rs 532 crore. But, states have done little to conserve forests—indeed, destruction of forest land has been to the detriment of both wildlife and forest-dwelling people and locals dependent on forests for at least a part of their income. It is evident from both, the incidents of human-animal conflict, as well as the fact that some of the states that saw the highest diversion of forest land are also those that saw green cover expand, with monoculture (often, of unsuitable tree species) the norm for reafforestation.
- Lost ranges and blocked corridors for elephants have made elephants look for soft landscapes adjoining forests such as coffee, tea and cardamom estates, and in the absence of these, wander into food-rich farms falling in their movement pathways.
- Expansion of human settlements into forests – expansion of cities, industrial areas, railway/road infrastructure, tourism etc.
- Commercial pressures eat into already diminished habitat.
- Allowing livestock to graze in forest areas
- Land use transformations such as change from protected forest patches to agricultural and horticultural lands and monoculture plantations are further destroying the habitats of wildlife.
- Unscientific structures and practices of forest management in the country
- Infestation of wildlife habitat by invasive exotic weeds leads to decreased availability of edible grasses for wild herbivores
- Decreased prey base caused by poaching of herbivores has also resulted in carnivores moving out of forests in search of prey and to indulge in cattle lifting.
Can there be solutions?
India’s culture of tolerance must be supplemented by innovative, evidence-driven, socially-just institutions that govern the human-wildlife interface. For this, the Indian government and civil society need relevant and timely data.
First, we need to better understand the core ecological variables
- How many elephants are there, and how are they distributed? Do the forests that the elephants live in have enough palatable vegetation, or has it been replaced by invasive weeds and inedible plantation trees like teak?
- In northeast India, we don’t even know all the places elephants go, inhibiting the protection of their habitat and lives. Such vital data could empower conservationists to pursue forest regeneration, grassland restoration, and corridor protection necessary to support large populations of elephants.
Second, data on human-elephant conflicts
- Currently, data on crop-raiding by elephants, elephant deaths, and human deaths due to conflict are buried in paper files scattered across the country, preventing timely analyses. If state governments develop electronic databases on human-elephant conflict, the government and civil society can target interventions to places where elephants are troubling communities.
- We can strategically choose where to help farmers replace lethal electric fences with effective non-lethal barriers, deploy awareness programmes to minimise accidental encounters, and strengthen the administration of fair compensation programmes.
- The building of such evidence-driven institutions to protect elephants requires funding. While NGOs could use help from the private sector, the government must also step up. The National Tiger Conservation Authority receives approximately Rs. 350 crore a year — Project Elephant receives less than 10 per cent of that.
Third, consider further disincentivising cruelty towards animals
- Currently, the wildlife laws guiding sentencing for illegal hunting do not consider whether the animal suffered a slow and painful death. India’s conservation laws are geared to protect species, not prevent animal cruelty.
- Accepting that the people will continue to kill wild animals, perhaps our laws should regard cruel acts more harshly than, say, defending crops with a gun when there is no alternative.
- Inclusion of local community in forest wildlife management
- To ensure that money which comes in through tourism (of Tiger reserves) should be used for the development of the local villages as has been done in Tadoba tiger reserve, Maharashtra
- Ensuring that elephant corridors are not razed/neglected due to overzealous developmental approach
- Radio tagging of elephants can help identify danger spots and also avoid man-animal conflict
- Ban on illegal electrical fencing with proper guidelines for maintaining the height of high tension electrical wires – cabling of power lines should be mandatory
- A proper zone-wise management plan for different elephant landscapes — where to allow elephants and where to restrict their movement
- Effort should be to expand elephant corridors, using the successful models within the country, including acquisition of lands using private funds and their transfer to the government.
Human-wildlife conflict is not linear, and can have unforeseen ripple effects on biodiversity and the forest ecosystem
Elephant corridors are strips of land connecting two large habitats, which are supposed to provide a safe corridor for elephants to migrate from one landscape to another. In India, there are 101 elephant corridors.
Elephant Information Network (EIN)
- Has enabled human-elephant coexistence in southern India
- Acts as an early warning mechanism to alert people when elephants are nearby, minimizing negative human-elephant interactions, and increasing people’s tolerance towards elephants.
- By Mr. Ananda Kumar
Karnataka has the highest number of elephants (6,049), followed by Assam (5,719) and Kerala (3,054)
- Karnataka, which has the largest elephant population in the country, captures and confines elephants in conflict with humans
- Called Kumki elephants, they are tamed and trained in forest camps, and are now in demand in other States, for patrolling duties in forest reserves
- Their ‘export’ also helps Karnataka, reducing the burden on its camps.
- How: The state has a tradition of training wild pachyderms: folklore has it that the Jenu Kuruba tribes excelled at it, supplying elephants to the Chola and Pallava kings. Tipu Sultan institutionalised the practice three centuries ago.
- They have been exported to the following parks –
- Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh
- Jharkhand’s Palamu Tiger Reserve
- Uttarakhand: Corbett Tiger Reserve + Rajaji Tiger Reserve + Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary
Connecting the dots:
- Kasturirangan Committee report on Western Ghats