Human price of shrinking forests: Odisha tops casualties inflicted by elephants

Bhubaneswar: It seems that there is no end to the ongoing human-animal conflict in Odisha as the eastern state has reported the countrys highest number of human casualties in elephant attacks during the past three years.

As many as 1,578 people died in elephant attacks in India between 2019-20 and 2021-22, of which the highest 322 such deaths were reported from Odisha, according to a statement by Union minister for environment, forest and climate change, Bhupender Yadav, in Parliament during its last session.

While 117 persons were killed in elephant attacks in 2019-20, 93 such deaths were reported during 2020-21 and another 112 deaths in 2021-22.

At the same time, the state also witnessed the death of wild elephants due to various reasons including poaching, electrocution, train accidents, road mishaps, etc.

Official data showed that at least 245 elephants died in Odisha during the same period from 2019-20 to 2021-22. While 82 elephants died in 2019-20, the deaths of another 77 jumbos were reported in 2020-21. Moreover, the number of deaths increased to 86 in 2021-22.

Out of the 245 jumbo deaths that occurred in the past three years, 35 deaths were reported in the Dhenkanal forest division, followed by mineral-rich Keonjhar division with 21 deaths and Angul with 12 deaths.

During the last three years, Deogarh and Athmallik forest divisions have reported 11 elephant deaths each whereas 10 such deaths have been reported from Balasore wildlife division, Kalahandi (south) and Khurda division.

During the last one decade (2012-13 to 2021-22), Odisha has reported 784 elephant deaths, of which 36 jumbos died in accidents while 34 were killed by poachers and others due to various reasons. Out of 36 accidental deaths, 30 died in train accidents, six in road accidents.

Apart from these deaths, in June and July the Odisha police found the bones and carcasses of five elephants including a tusker from Athagarh forest range in Cuttack district.

These figures indicate the gravity of the human-elephant conflict in the state. Apart from human casualties, the elephants are also destroying the houses and crops of the people residing near elephant habitations.

The human-elephant conflict is increasing in Odisha basically due to the increasing population, degradation of forests and human behaviour, said Jaya Krishna Panigrahi, secretary, Orissa Environmental Society, an Odisha-based voluntary organisation working for the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity.

“We have forests, but their quality has been degraded due to various reasons. There is a lack of food and water inside the forests also, which forces the jumbos to come out to human habitations,” he said.

Besides, the links between the forest areas for the movement of wildlife animals have also been disconnected, Panigrahi said.

To remedy the situation, the environmentalist said “We have to ensure that the elephants get all they need within the forests and the people near forest areas should be motivated to cultivate other crops and learn how to behave with the wild elephants as they also need to survive.”

Informing about the various steps taken by the state government for the conservation and protection of wild elephants, Odisha forest minister Pradip Amt, in a written reply in the assembly on July 19, said that 14 elephant corridors and three elephant conservation projects have been taken up to prevent the deaths of elephants.

The state government has dug ponds to provide drinking water to the elephants. At least 402 ponds were dug and 426 ponds were restored in the past three years.

As per the reply, 343 anti-poaching squads comprising 1715 personnel have been deployed in strategic places to prevent the poaching of elephants. Drone and watch towers are being used to keep a strict vigil on the elephant habitats, their movements and on the movement of poachers.

The state has set up a crime cell under the Special Task Force (STF) of the crime branch to investigate and take action in important cases.

For safe passage of the wild animals, it was proposed to construct an animal overpass or underpass on the railway line at 35 locations.

Besides, underpasses have been proposed at 49 locations on various highways, on which work has been completed at 11 locations and is in progress in 15 other locations. The state has enhanced the compensation amount to Rs 4 lakh from Rs 3 lakh for death in a wild animal attack.

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