By Saroj Kumar Patnaik [Letter to Editor\
Kautilya in his famous Arthasastra written in 300BC had mentioned about the best of war elephants of Kalinga. The king of Kalinga was known as Gajapati (meaning Lord of elephants) and the present king of Puri is known by that title. It is said that till as late as 15th century Gajapati had two lakh elephants.
This can give an idea as to how rich the forests of Odisha used to be to support a huge number of elephants besides other wildlife. Till the merger of the princely states, most of them possessed captive elephants.
But the situation has drastically changed with passage of time and elephants depredation in human habitation have become very frequent, thereby causing human death and injury, crop and house damage besides death and injury to elephants, though their number has reduced to about 1,800 in the wild.
In the last 5 years, 328 people have died due to confrontation with elephants, 212 others had been injured, 5,167 houses have been damaged and 62,325 hectares of crop lost besides death of 31 number of cattle because of retaliation by elephants.
During the same period, 353 elephants have died due to various reasons. Of these, poaching cases have been 33, while 17 have been poisoned and 59 have been electrocuted.
A shocking incident took place, when the Coromandel Express mowed down five elephants on December 31, 2012, bringing total death due to train accidents to 14 during the period.
Many calves are left behind by crop raiding herds and some are reported to have fallen in wells or deep ponds. This situation paints a grim picture of our conservation effects.
It goes without saying that the state government through its forest department is doing its best to prevent the animal depredation by engaging and equipping anti depredation squads and providing compassionate grant promptly.
But how long these huge animals can be contained without food and cover?
In the crop season, when the herds come out to forage on them the department field staff work during the day and night to drive them ignoring all other works of wildlife and forest management and the affected people are also fully engaged in this operation that means huge loss manpower of the country.
Each adult animal needs about 250kg of green fodder and 50 litres of water to drink every day, besides its bathing requirements.
In the guise of providing better life to our people, we have degraded the forests through over exploitation.
We have fragmented the habitats for mining, industries, human habitation, and irrigation projects including deep canals, roads, railway, transmission lines and other artefacts.
These long-ranging animals have shifted to areas where they were not seen for more than 100 years in desperate search for better habitat.
The cases in undivided Balangir district, Koraput plateau, Chhatrapur and Balugaon areas are few such which need mention among many others in the country such as Dumka in Jharkhand, Korba area in Chhattisgarh and south Andhra Pradesh.
Elephants have now gone to 28 out of 30 districts of the state. The people there are not used to elephants and hence do not know how to handle any situation involving elephants and suffer the most due to depredations.
Their distribution into small pockets of fragmented habitats has increased the risk of their ultimate annihilation in the long run due to high rate of inbreeding.
But the question arises, as to how long these huge animals can continue to starve, being relentlessly driven day and night by anti-depredation squads and people?
(The author is former chief wildlife warden of Odisha)