Giant Incursion: Arrival of Elephants in Maharashtra

Till 2002, Maharashtra was considered a State that was devoid of wild elephants. In 2002, a group of seven elephants entered Sindhudurg district from Karnataka border and over the years have settled in Maharashtra. The sudden arrival of elephants has created considerable confusion and agitation among the people. Presently the extent and magnitude of the problem is limited so it is imperative to develop urgent measures for management of this problem before it becomes unmanageable. The objectives of the study were to review the history of the elephant presence in border areas of Karnataka and recent incursion into Sindhudurg and Kolhapur districts of Maharashtra, to review crop damage and other economic losses due to elephant raids in Maharashtra and discuss the likely impact of elephant presence in Sindhudurg and Kolhapur District, and to identify and evaluate solutions to the conflict situation and give recommendations to the Forest Department in this respect

The study area for the project was entire Kolhapur and Sindudurg Districts. Between year 2002 to 2006, 1672 crop damage cases have been registered in both the districts. Total area affected by elephant depredation is 222 ha in Sindhudurg and 108 ha in Kolhapur district. Crop damage cases are recorded regularly for claims of ex-gratia payment. In Sindhudurg, there are three peaks, the first in February, the second in June and the largest peak in November. Kolhapur shows a peak in February, April and November. From May onwards the crop raids begin to reduce and are almost nil in July and August. The same pattern is seen in for the last three years in both the districts.In Sindhudurg, crop damage is found to occur throughout the year. The number of cases is lowest in March and September for unexplained causes. Perhaps elephants are absent from the region during this season. In Kolhapur, sugarcane is raided for 7 months of the year, followed by paddy (5 months), banana and maize (3 months) and sweet potato (2 months).Elephants show a high preference for banana, betel nut and coconut in Sindhudurg District. They show a high preference for sugarcane in Chandgad Taluka. Sometimes the crops with low preference may also occur in high percentage in the crop compensation cases because there is a high area under cultivation for that crop, such as paddy in both districts.

The ex-gratia payment in Sindhudurg District is much higher than Kolhapur District. The reason is that a high percentage of cases in Sindhudurg District are for plantation crops such as coconut and betel nut that have a high compensation rate. The main crop in Kolhapur District is sugarcane, compensation rate for which is lower.

The elephants have been using certain routes regularly in Sindhudurg and Sawantwadi. In the initial one or two years they mainly resided in the Tilari catchment area and around the villages Shirange and Konal, which are downstream of the Tilari Dam. In Kolhapur District elephants have stayed mainly in Chandgad and Gadhinglaj Talukas. In Chandgad they have mainly resided in the dense forest block around Kalanandigad Hill. From Chandgad they have gone to Gadhinglaj using the route Kamewadi, Nesri, Batkanangle, Teginhal, Masewadi, Naukud, Channekuppi to Hukkeri District of Karnataka Boundary.

Initially managing conflict in Sindhudurg District was limited to local level scaring operations. Later this was extended to elephant drives. Initially elephant scaring was carried out only by the local field staff of that particular round. This practice continues till today in Sindhudurg District.

In Kolhapur District, as long as the elephants were in Chandgad Taluka, the field staff of that range managed conflict. This situation changed when the elephants moved to Gadhinglaj Taluka. The staff carried out specific tasks of tracking the elephants in the fields, alerting the villagers to keep away from those areas, controlling the people and spreading awareness in the area about elephant presence. According to the staff, the local people did not co-operate and were very aggressive with the staff in spite of the staff performing their duties.

Our study has found that managing elephants in Sindhudurg is more difficult because of the hilly terrain and highly interspersed private land and forest. The economic losses are higher because of presence of plantation crops such as coconut and betel nut. At present many villagers in Dodamarg Taluka are selling their private forest land and farmland to planters from Kerala and Tamil Nadu at a very cheap rate. These planters have cleared the existing forests from this land and now re-planting it with oil palms, rubber, coconut and banana. It is important to prevent further conversion of private and community forest to plantations and the government should take active steps in this regard.

Elephant conservation should be linked to local people’s welfare. If the local people are not included into elephant conservation programs, in their areas, they will not care for the survival of the species. Human elephant conflict or any category of human wildlife conflict cannot be totally eliminated and the search for permanent solutions is futile. Local people need to be educated that they have to live with human elephant conflict and minimize their losses in face of this situation.

Supported by : Ministry of Environment and Forests, New Delhi