Sunday, February 22, 2009

Understanding man-elephant conflict

Background of the project:

1. Elephant crop raiding is an important issue in all elephant forests abutting human settlements.
2. Maximum claims faced by forest departments seem to be from elephant crop raiding and deaths caused by elephants coming into conflict with humans.
3. The pressure to keep crop raiding claims down seem to be one of the reasons for the elephant ping pong that happens at the Bannerghatta-Kempatahalli corridor, where TN and Karnataka forest departments drive elephants across state borders. This was a statement made by a forest range officer of Thally-Jowlagiri range when Anand and Sanjeev met them for uniform distribution recently.
4. The victims of crop raiding are mostly subsistence farmers and the loss of income causes enormous hardships to poor families.
5. Nightly vigil maintained by village folk creates a stressful situation for the men and breeds antipathy towards animals in general.
6. All possible efforts need to be taken up to reduce conflict situations between humans and elephants.

A possible solution:

1. Chilli fencing is a strategy that developed in Africa to address similar human elephant conflict situation.
2. Elephants have an acute sense of smell that is said to be 150 times more powerful than humans. The pungent odour of chilli is an effective deterrent to elephants. Three methods of utilizing the property of chilli seems to be prevalent:
1. Use chilli as a border crop to deter elephants from entering fields.
2. A fence made of ropes coated with a mixture of ground chilli, tobacco and engine oil is erected to ward of elephants.
3. Cakes made of elephant dung and chilli are burnt at night times. This cake is said to burn upto eight hours emitting pungent smoke which drives away elephants.
3. ANCF carried out trials of the engine oil, chilli and tobacco coated rope fences at Gulhatti area close to Aiyur reserve forest. The results were summarized like this:
1. The chilli fence experiment at Gulhatti village was successful in controlling 80% of attempts by herds and bulls.
2. It was more effective against the herds (95%) than the bulls (50%). Since, it was effective overall for 80%, it is still recommend to use this technique but should be restricted during the reproductive (flowering and grain) stage of the crop to avoid elephants to get acclimatized.

Extent of the problem in Melagiri hills:

1. Elephant is without doubt the flagship species in the melagiri hills. A sizeable population of resident elephants said to number around 150 heads according to FD sources are said to exist here.
2. Frequently elephants from Bannerghatta range are driven into this area and this year the figure of elephants coming in from Bannerghatta is thought to be around 150 to 200 heads.
3. Elephants also cross over from Kollegal and Kanakpura forest ranges by swimming across the Cauvery river into the area.
4. Almost every local farmer complains that elephants are aware of the harvest seasons and promptly present themselves to eat up the crops.
5. It will be interesting to find out whether this happens because the elephants do not have sufficient food within the forests, or whether they just prefer to munch a free meal!
6. Human deaths caused by elephants are a regular feature every year.

Specific background and first hand information:

1. At the recent meeting with the FD at Hosur attended by Laxmeesha, Sanjeev, Anand Menon, Soumyajit, and Sudheesh, chili fencing was broached with the DFO. His support for this activity is very encouraging. We requested details of the areas facing the problem at the current time. We were given a report of 2 herds one numbering 5 and another numbering 30 which were active in the Udedurgam area. This is the same place where a person was killed just before the uniform distribution day. Also recently another person was killed a couple of days ago. It is reported that elephants travel nearly 2 kms from forest boundaries to raid crops. We decided to visit this place for a first hand account.
2. We went to villages bordering Udedurgam forest area and went to a small village called U-puram. The Bangalore Salem railway line passes just outside the village. Beyond the village at a distance of maybe 1.5 KM is the forest boundary. We were surprised to see patta land farms literally on the edge of the forest boundary. A few years ago 5 elephants were run over by a train on these very tracks not far from here.
3. An elderly lady and a young kid gave us a lot of information. The last visit of elephants to this village was 8 days back. Another lady joined up and showed us her house which is just along the railway line, where elephants had come and eaten up large bales harvested crops laid out to dry.
4. We were told that the person who was killed 25 days back had been gaurding his harvest laid out for threshing by sleeping on a nearby rock along with another person. On hearing the elephants, he had stepped down to fetch re-inforcements from the village, when he was pasted into the ground by the elephants.
5. We also gathered that pigs were another menace in this locality. The young boy then accompanied us to the last field bordering the forest.
6. The person present there told us that his last planting of vegetables was torn up by elephants and that he had recently replanted beetroot. He showed us the place from which elephants came in, which is literally like stepping out of the jungle into the field!
7. There was an ample collection of elephant dung in his manure heap to vouch for his account and also visible were elephant foot print craters in his paddy field.
8. A small gathering collected around us and we spent a while talking to them about the forest but did not ourselves venture into the jungle.
9. We were flabbergasted when he told us that there were camels in the jungles. He identified them as "Duppe" having long neck and long legs and being coloured like Laxmeesha's T-shirt. Later on being shown picture, he identified them as Sambhars, which seems like a reasonable error.
10. Other animals reported here were Sambhar, wild pigs, peacocks, chital, sloth bear, gaur and Leopards.
11. One more gent informed us that they had two kinds of leopards Mataka and Matakadu living here. One was large and the other was smaller. Once again we were surprised when he identified the Tiger as one of the Matakas. He was quite confident about his report and insisted that a group of herders were followed by this animal a while back. The general proportions of the animal described by him regarding height and size of head seems to indicate a tiger. Some of his own friends were skeptical, but our man was sticking to his story.
12. It is interesting to note that the person from whom two tiger pelts were siezed near Majestic area in Bangalore hails from Achettipalli which is less than 10 KM from this place. It is reported that he confessed to having got the pelts from Hosur area.
13. We were also told that a leopard (mataka) had killed two goats within sight of the field we were standing in. This field is surrounded by low lying rocky hills with good forest cover.

In any case we told the farmers that we would be back in a week or two with some experiments to control elephants. We gave a contact number to get in touch at any time if elephants were sighted. On the way back, we stopped to ask a person for directions and it was revealed that this person was the brother in law of the person killed 25 days back. He hailed from Kadur and told us that he could take us to the place and also to the jungle to show us elephants. We told him that we will take a raincheck on that.

We then made our way to Panchapalli Dam through Denkanikotta, which forms the other border of the Udedurgam RF. This is also listed as Sanatkumara Nadhi in old maps. Beyond the dam are hills which lead on to Aiyur RF and beyond.

At the Dam we ran into some fisherfolk who told us that they had just sighted some elephants on the jungles on the shores of the reservoir.

Proposed Plan of Action:
The recipe for making chili spray is pretty straight forward. This can be done with local materials. It is proposed to make a sprayable concoction to try out the field in U-puram village. Most things should be available at little cost. I am making a small batch of this spray as a test. This can probably be diluted with water and emulsifier.

Based on the modifications and success at U-puram, we can develop a strategy that can be scaled up to cover all conflicted settlements in Melagiri hills and beyond.

Sanjeev Kumar S.R
Vice President
Kenneth Anderson Nature Society



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