Website by AQEEL FAROOQI  



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Problems of identification of camera-trapped tigers
Indian Wildlife - challenges in the new millennium
The greying of India
On the road to extinction
A Tribute to Rumbha - the elephant  
State development project threatens state bird - Sarus
Shahtoosh ban gains momentum worldwide
The road to disaster
Killing nilgais in the name of crop protection
Warring NGO's may spell doom for the tiger
Where have all the sparrows gone?
Cuckoos that fly out of crows' nests
Corbett park woes continue to mount
A question on post mortem examinations in the wild
Is it time to 'cry wolf' again?
Lifting of US sanctions may boost wildlife conservation
Migratory waterfowl may be hit by war in Afghanistan
UP wetlands to provide improved habitat to waterfowl
Anthrax as a potent wildlife killer
Man-elephant conflict takes heavy toll
Demoiselle cranes fly to safety in India
How long lasting are conservation victories
Fake tiger skins : a knotty disguise
Who cares for the wild here anyway?
A tribute to Charger - the long living tiger
Draining of wetlands threatening wildlife
Wildlife management needs rapid response units
Dudhwa loses another tiger
Indian Wildlife Board meets after five years

 WILDLIFE WINDOW | Aqeel Farooqi

Hindustan Times, Lucknow | October 31, 2001


Man-elephant conflict takes heavy toll

While writing in this column last week, I had mentioned that one of the unconfirmed causes for the death of seven elephants in Assam’s Nameri national park during the month of August, had been attributed to anthrax infection. I had also rued the fact that a lack of a proper follow-up on the media report published in the Assam Tribune was the reason why this suspicion of anthrax being the possible contaminant, could not be confirmed at the time of writing.

In a bid to remedy this self-deprecation, as well as to clarify logical queries that may have been raised in the minds of readers, I tried to acquire some additional information on this issue. But to my utmost chagrin, I now find that the malady was in fact far greater that was reported, and that the death of the seven elephants was only the tip of a deadly iceberg, with the actual number of elephants succumbing exceeding more that thirty.

According to information provided by Guwahati based Manju Barua, an active conservationist and a member of the Standing Committee of Indian Board for Wildlife, there is grave concern for the wild elephants of Assam, since it is evident that a sort of ‘silent war’ has been declared against them by some people within one single district of Sonitpur. It is staggering to know that in a matter of about 70 days during July to September this year, 31 elephants have been poisoned to death there.

It all started with the death of 20 elephants, which were poisoned in and around Nameri National Park and Naduar RF in Sonitpur East Division between July 3rd and 13th August. However, in spite of clear indications that this mass death of elephants could be due to poisoning, the forest department reportedly failed to activate the Police machinery to identify and apprehend the culprits who perpetrated the crime. As a result, the perpetrators were presumably encouraged to carry on this mode of extermination and subsequently, in the next month (Aug-Sept 2001), 4 more elephants were poisoned in Charduar RF, Dhekiajuli. This was followed by another carnage with 7 elephants being poisoned to death near Tezpur airport in Goroimari, which incidentally was a Reserve Forest before the airport was established.

The root cause of this tragedy lies in the ever-increasing man-animal conflict that percolates to almost all parts of the country where forests and wildlife are located. And as always happens, it is the wildlife that ends up paying the heaviest toll. In the present case, Barua contends that it had been long evident that this area was vulnerable enough to precipitate such a `silent cleansing' of the elephant population. The three primary indicators to this effect were (a) a systematic destruction of elephant habitat in the district, (b) the local people's protests against elephant-depredation progressively taking a more organized form, and (c) the fact that various experts had been in agreement about identifying this district as a representative area for elephant depredation.

In order to analyse the level of man-elephant conflict that catalysed this fatal and revengeful act, Barua outlines that the five reserve forests (RF) located in the eastern part of the district where these mass killings are occurring, have experienced systematic destruction of forests for the purpose of agriculture and homestead. A forest department survey conducted in 1999 enumerates that the area under encroachment in most of these RF’s ranged from 40 to 70 percent. Most of these encroached areas are now agricultural fields, which the locals cultivate for paddy and other crop. Wild elephants that perforce intrude into these areas because of their own shrinking habitat, are regarded as pests and dealt with as such, with gruesome consequences.

But now that the deadly deed has been committed, the least that should be done by authorities - apart from catching the culprits - is to take appropriate action in tackling the root causes of the crisis. It should be logically inferred that if whole communities in these areas are turning hostile, there has to be a genuine reason that needs to be tackled in its entirety rather than it being dealt with in a superficial manner. This would necessarily encompass measures to reduce crop depredations, dealing with the complex issue of illegal encroachments, and adequately compensating farmers for the losses they are incurring. Unless this is done, mere apprehensions of poachers / killers is not likely to redress the problem of man-animal conflict in any part of the country.