Management of Wild Elephants in Southern Maharashtra
Based on previous work carried out by WRCS on elephant conflict, the Maharashtra Forest Department requested it to prepare an action plan for management of elephants in the state. The action plan addresses few specific questions as to which forest areas are suitable as habitats in terms of meeting requirements of elephants for food and shelter. What are the implications of presence of elephants in these areas in terms of man-elephant conflict? What is the future of elephants in Maharashtra and what are the options and practices for management of conflict that can be adopted by the government and the local people at the individual level? The action plan is based mainly on primary data that is collected by field assessments, consultations and collating secondary information from the forest Department. In Kolhapur Division, Chandgad Range has been most affected registering 66% of the total crop damage cases and has paid 70% of the total ex-gratia amount paid to farmers in the area. However, post 2009, the situation seems to have changed for the better, as the number of cases and average ex-gratia amount paid per year has decreased. The number of crop damage cases in Sawantwadi is almost twice that of Kolhapur Division. Conflict seems to be mainly concentrated in the Dodamarg and Sawantwadi ranges which account for 75% of the crop damage cases registered and 83% of the total ex-gratia amount paid. However similar to Kolhapur, the number of crop damage cases have decreased since 2009 in this area. In the last nine years of human-elephant conflict in the two districts, there have been 10 human deaths, 13 elephant deaths and 21 incidents of injury to humans from elephants.
An assessment of the Forest Department’s measures to manage HEC was carried out during the study. Both the affected Divisions are following certain practices to manage the elephant conflict in their area. Tracking, night patrolling, scaring and driving of elephant herds in the vicinity of villages is practiced in both the divisions with the help of local people. Elephant movement registers are maintained at both the Range and Division level. Elephant capture and relocation has been attempted only once in the Sawantwadi Division at a cost of Rs 43 lakhs. It resulted in the capture of 4 elephants, of which two died.
Construction of elephant barriers has been the mainstay of HEC management strategy by the Forest Department. Nearly 60% of the funds obtained by the Kolhapur Division have been spent on barrier construction. A total of 11 Elephant Proof Trenches (EPTs) and 3 solar powered electric fences were surveyed in Chandgad range. Of these, none of the EPTs could be termed completely effective, suggesting that the trenches are anything but ‘elephant proof’. The most common drawbacks were- caving in of the trench because of loose soil, septae being too broad, trench becoming discontinuous where nalas were present, crossing points made by villagers to move carts and cattle across etc.
There is an urgent need to monitor land use changes in the region. Lessons learnt from other conflict prone states indicate clearly that encroachment, conversion of forest land into plantations and blockage of corridors are mainly responsible for escalation of HEC in a region. The Forest Department should initiate awareness programmes by involving local NGOs on the importance of crop guarding, general precautions, forest fires and other local conservation issues. The action plan strongly recommends against construction of EPTs and solar fence; waterholes and fodder plots; use of kunkies; capture and relocation of elephants in the state.