Farmers and Elephants: A Pilot Initiative in North Kanara

The North Kanara District of Karnataka State has a population of about 60 Asian elephants. This particular population of elephants is a descendant of an earlier generation that faced severe persecution by local communities during late 19th century.  The North Kanara District has the largest forest cover in the state. Yet the landscape is fragmented with cultivation, plantations and village settlements. Although the intensity of human-elephant conflict in the district is relatively low, it is expected to rise in the near future due to increase in irrigation leading to increased sugarcane cultivation, summer paddy cultivation and encroachment. If elephants and local people have to co-exist, it is important that adverse impact of each other’s presence and activities should be minimized. Through this project, we have introduced the concept of Community-based Conflict Management (CBCM) as a model that empowers the local community in effective guarding methods and in reducing the crop loss due to elephants.     

The project has introduced the concept of Community-based Conflict Management (CBCM) to the Farmers and Forest officers .Through CBCM we have emphasized on change in attitude and responsibility towards conflict mitigation. This concept being new in India, requires  constant discussions with the stake-holders before they start adopting the practices. The project demonstrated to the farmers that a surefire way to reduce crop loss is by being alert, self-sufficient and diversify their sources of income.  A beginning has been made reduce negative impact of elephant presence on people, but will require intensive follow-up actions to realize this outcome.

Till 1999, the elephants in North Kanara landscape represented the northern-most population of Asian elephants in the Western Ghats. In 2002, a few elephants moved northwards and began exploring the neighbouring state of Maharashtra. This movement of elephants started human-elephant conflict in newer areas of Northern Karnataka and southern Maharashtra. In 2009, WRCS initiated a pilot project on implementation of community-based  management of human-elephant conflict in North Kanara region.After the initial success of the project, WRCS received financial support from Asian Elephant Conservation Fund (AECF), from US Fish and Wildlife Service to continue the project. The objectives of the project are to Develop and Implement Conflict Mitigation Measures in Affected Villages of North Kanara with involvement of Local Farmers, to monitor elephant movement by participation of the Local Community and the Forest Department, to generate awareness about Long-Term Elephant Conservation in the Area.

Through the project, we have demonstrated the use of trip alarms, chilly-based barriers, night-guarding, and bee-hive fences. Till date over 500 farmers have adopted various measures of protecting their own crops. Farmers have started night guarding from the safety of tree-watchtowers and instaling trip alarms. Chilly smoke is another useful  low-cost measure that is being used widely in the area to keep away the elephants. Each season the farmers and field staff light the chilly smoke in most vulnerable spots and have reported much less damage to crops.

Inspired by Dr. Lucy King’s experiment on bee-hive fences in Africa, we are developing low cost bee-hives in clay pots, bamoo and log-hives. This is a promising measure to keep away the elephants and can give economic benefits to the farmer too.

In 2015, we arranged a series of inter-state workshops to train the fied staff and local farmers across the country in the CBCM model. The workshops were arranged at Kulgi Nature Camp and was attended by 120 participants from Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Nagaland, Nepal and Odisha State. Many participants are now practicing these measures in their area for reducing crop loss.

A pilot project was supported from 2009 to 2011 year by CEPF-ATREE. From 2011 onwards this project is being supported by Asian Elephant Conservation Fund (AECF) of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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