Elephant Killings: Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC)

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    • The recent MoEFCC data stated that 1,160 elephants were killed due to reasons other than natural causes.

    Key Facts

    • A total of 186 wild elephants died after being hit by trains across the country till 31 December 2020. 
    • Assam recorded the highest death of 62 elephants while Tamil Nadu reported five. 
    • As many as 741 wild elephants were electrocuted with Odisha recording the highest number of 133 and Tamil Nadu 93. 
    • 169 elephants were poached, of which nine are from Tamil Nadu. Odisha is at the top with 49 poaching deaths.  
    • Likewise, 32 wild elephants were poisoned to death in Assam and one in Tamil Nadu reported in 2009-10.
    • The country had 29,964 wild elephants as a census was conducted in 2017.  
      • Karnataka tops the list with 6049 elephants. 
      • There were 2761 elephants in Tamil Nadu. 
      • The MOEF spent `212.5 crores on elephant conservation in the said period.

    Image Courtesy: TH 

    Causes of Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC)

    • Shrinking Habitats: The expansion of the human population into or near areas inhabited by wildlife is leading to the loss of natural habitat. The fragmentation has been bringing wild animals like elephants closer to human habitations, sparking these conflicts.
    • Loss of Crops: The crop damages at households and sites located along high-risk conflict-prone edges and transitional areas lead to rivalry among settlers and wild animals. Crops and property worth millions are damaged annually. Many animals are also killed in retaliation due to conflict.
    • Railway Tracks: Trains are actually a minor killer. For example, poisoning, poaching and electrocution together kill more than four times as many elephants. During 2009-16, 535 elephants died this way; during the same period, 120 were killed on the tracks.
    • Making way for growth: India’s Protected (forest) Areas cover 1,61,222 sq km, less than 5% of the country’s area. And yet, many see attempts to make these stretches no-go zones as an impediment to growth.

    Preventive Measures

    • Safeguarding the habitats: The government must work on restoring wild habitats, strengthening anti-poaching efforts and working with villages in critical wild animal corridors.
    • Compensation for crop damage: Utilising add-on coverage under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna for crop compensation against crop damage due to HWC and augmenting fodder and water sources within the forest areas are some key steps that can reduce HWC.
    • Other critical measures: These include mitigating man-wildlife conflict by creating physical barriers (solar fencing), providing interim relief schemes to forest dwellers to curb retaliatory killings, providing alternatives to village residents to reduce pressure on forest resources, evacuating people from illegally-encroached forestlands, exploring and supporting alternative livelihood options and spreading awareness among villagers for animal protection.
    • Advisory for management of HWC: The Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife(SC-NBWL) in its 60th meeting approved the advisory for management of HWC in the country. The advisory makes important prescriptions for the States/ Union Territories for dealing with HWC situations and seeks expedited inter-departmental coordinated and effective actions.
    • Categorizing as Vermins: The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is planning to allow the legitimate hunting of wild animals such as blue bulls (nilgai) and wild boars to tackle man-animal conflict. However, animal welfare groups such as People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have expressed their concern over the ministry’s decision.

    Specific Measures to avoid Elephant killing

    • Development and maintenance of perennial water holes, solar-powered borewells etc.;
    • Creation of fodder plantations, bamboo planting/restocking;
    • Installation of hanging fences, solar-powered high electric fences,  rubble walls, community electric fences, concrete barriers, bio fences etc.;
    • Radio collaring for monitoring of problematic elephants, watchtower for tracking elephants, using drones for tracking etc.; 
    • Relocation of villages from elephant corridors or protected areas; and
    • Removal of elephants from human habitations or areas

    Way Ahead

    • To tackle such conflicts and avoid losses on both sides, it is important to strengthen the human-elephant coexistence through active management interventions by the State Forest Departments, involvement of various stakeholders and sensitization and generating awareness in local communities of forest fringe areas.
    • At the same time, the ecological balance cannot be restored through the barrel of a gun. The spirit of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is clear: it is to protect and preserve wildlife, so to label animals as “vermin” and kill them runs counter to all that this vital legislation stands for.

    A Permanent Coordination Committee has also been constituted between the Ministry of Railways and the MoEFCC for preventing elephant deaths due to train hits.