C. P. Belliappa's Column

Project Elephant’ to tackle elephant menace in Kodagu

By: C.P. Belliappa

Elephant menace has become a real and present danger for people in Kodagu and in several parts of Karnataka. The cavalier attitude of the government in general and the Forest Department in particular, in addressing this problem is most distressing and appalling. Several lives have been lost and there has been huge damage to private property. Our government seems to think that by giving compensation the problem of man-animal conflict could be wished away.

Probably we are not voicing our concerns loud enough for the government to take note of the menace posed by wild animals straying in to human habitat. This problem is gradually spinning out of control. According to law, general public cannot enter a reserve forest and hurt animals and birds living there. The Forest Department is the custodian of the forest and all the living creatures there.

By the same token, if wild animals wander into human habitation and cause damage to life and property, the Forest Department is in violation of the law. Our laws are equitable and the Forest Department has to not only compensate for the losses but also face the law and be punished for their dereliction of duty. Loss of life and damage to property due to negligence, is a criminal offence and amounts to culpable homicide.

In my own case, elephants have been steadily destroying my coconut area since 2011. Out of 830 yielding coconut trees, 300 (most of them with pepper vines) have been felled by elephants who are regular visitors to my estate. Besides, they have also damaged my irrigation pipes, gates, fences, coffee bushes, oil palms, and areca plants. I have been complaining to the Forest Department for the past two years to ensure that the pachyderms that belong to them be relocated in their habitation. It is their duty as to how this problem is to be solved. Several agriculturists and villagers are victims of rampage by elephants.

I have a few suggestions that could be implemented by the Forest Department in cooperation with the farmers and agriculturists who are the most affected. Government should provide necessary funds for this operation, which is briefly explained as under:

We all know how elephants used to be trapped in the good old days. It was known as ‘Kheda Operation’. The same procedure could be used with the help of modern equipment and techniques available. Here’s the sequence that could be followed:

Large pits should be dug using earth moving equipment on known elephant tracks, with inputs from farmers and agriculturists.

These pits should be covered with bamboo poles and the top camouflaged with earth, grass, leaves etc. When elephants step on this trap they fall into the pit.

Cranes, trucks, ropes and trained elephants should be ready. The trapped elephant should be tranquilized, lifted out of the pit, loaded on to the truck, transported, and released in the forest.

Before this operation, conditions in the forest should be improved for the animals. Large tanks should be dug for storing water, quick growing grass should be sown, salt-licks should be provided, and for the long-term fruit trees, leafy plants, banana etc., favoured by the elephants should be planted extensively.

All necessary provisions such as large trenches, electric fences etc., should be put-up around the forest areas to ensure elephants and other wild animals are contained within forest limits.

If ‘Project Elephant’ is meticulously planned and executed efficiently, at least two elephants could be trapped and transported back to the forest every week. That is about 100 elephants in a year. In Kodagu alone there are about 100 elephants roaming outside the forest limits.

This is highly doable. All that is required is ‘the-will-to-do’ by the Forest Department. They should immediately submit a detailed proposal to the government for the required funds and start the process without any further delay. Let it not come to a pass when army will have to be called to solve the problem!

The past mistakes and complacency by the Forest Department can be put aside for now. People should feel safe and their property free from destruction by elephants and other wild animals from the forests.

Any further procrastination and laxity by the Forest Department should attract strict legal action of the highest level applicable to criminal negligence and culpable homicide.