By U. Tejonmayam
Man-elephant conflict has been a concern for activists and forest officials. As the human popula tion expands into wildlife habitat, the elephant's natural territory is displaced.This conflict has been playing out in all its details along parts of the reserve forest area in Coimbatore division.
Forest officials say that often elephants have simply walked in to agricultural lands or plantations only because they were attracted to the crops like sugarcane or banana. "In Coimbatore, farmers are against these elephants. They ask the forest officials to take care of the wild elephant problem. We only think of conserving elephants and improving their numbers. But we don't think about its habitat and the space it would need if their numbers grow," said S Mohammad Ali, naturalist from Coimbatore.
Nilgiri foothills, which has been a regular route for elephants to cross mountains, are now occupied by humans. "The government had given patta to people many years back along the foothills. Unaware of how to deal with elephants, people here sleep on the road, use open toilets, don't carry torch and throw firecrackers at the elephants," said Dinesh Kumar, forest ranger of Coimbatore Forest Division. Forest officials have been taking a number of measure to ease the human-animal conflict. In Coimbatore division, they have employed about 150 people from local tribes to keep a watch and chase away these elephants if they attempt to walk in to private lands.But a long-term solution would require securing the elephant's habitat and movement areas, say activists. Novel initiatives would be needed such as the recent World Wildlife Fund - India (WWF) initiative to construct a bridge across traditional elephant-passing areas in the Nilgiri foothills that would minimize human-elephant interaction.
WWF conducted a study in Kallar Corridor - an area in the Coimbatore Forest Division that links Elephant Reserve 7 and 8 -and suggested to forest officials that a flyover for vehicular movement be construct ed linking hairpin bend 1 and 2 between Met tupalayam and Ooty , a stretch of about 3.5 kilometres and a key elephant-crossing area.
Reserve 7 stretches from Madikeri and Virajpet forest divisions in the north towards Mudumalai Wildlife Sanactuary in the south in the Western Ghats and then extends in to the Eastern Ghats covering elephant areas from Sathyamangalam division to Hosur and Dharmapuri Forest Divisions. Reserve 8 lies to the south of the Ooty plateau and stretch es from Coimbatore Forest Division to Nil ambur north and south Forest Divisions. Mohanraj, policy advisor to WWF-India, pointed out to the forest officials through the study that more than 4,100 large vehicles like cars pass through the corridor every day and the number crosses 6,000 during the peak summer season in May. "Elephants mostly move in herds. We have seen a herd of 120 elephants crossing the road at a time. It would take more than 45 minutes for them to cross.
If their chain gets cut, it would take some more time," a forest official said.
Sources said though the suggestions were accepted, the project did not take off for four years until recently. "We are identifying lands for acquisition for the construction of the bridge," said Senthil Kumar, district forest officer, Coimbatore Forest Division.