Elephants, being the largest land mammals, require large areas to roam and meet their daily food and water requirements during different seasons. A herds' home range can vary from an average of 250 sq km to over 350 sq km. Their peripatetic behaviour plays a very important role in shaping our environment, making them keystone species (living beings that help define an entire ecosystem). As they move through various landscapes, they clear the path for other animals and prevent overgrowth. They disperse seeds of many fruits through their dung along their way and provide nutrition and nourishment to flora and fauna. To cope with drought, they dig up water holes that accumulate water for them and other animals. Thus, by preserving habitats for elephants, we end preserving habitats for many other species as well. However, with an increase in forest fragmentation and habitat degradation, these large animals are forced to travel longer distances in search of food and water. This increases their chances of interacting with humans.
Over the last decade, Jharkhand, a state in Northern India, has witnessed a surge in unregulated mining activities and spree of infrastructural development which has infringed on elephant corridors, hampering their seasonal movement. The gaps (or pits) in the forests created by mining activities in these corridors result in elephants moving into human habitations in order to avoid falling into the pits. This has caused an increase in human-elephant conflict. In the last 11 years, over 800 people have died in conflict with elephants, and in the last eight years, 60 elephants have died in such conflicts. According to locals, 15 years back, elephants were not feared as much as they did not cause much damage. Now the herds frequently raid villages and time it according to crop harvests, increasing the loss incurred and instilling fear in the community. While the data paints a vivid picture of the scale of conflict, here are some stories from the community that give us a glimpse into the hardships faced.
Anupa and her family were sitting around after eating breakfast, when they heard that the elephant had come close to the river. This was not the first time an elephant had come into their village, so they continued to go on with the activities of the day. It was only by early evening that the elephant had ventured close to Anupa’s house. She was cooking an early dinner to feed her hungry kids. Just when they were about to sit down to eat, they heard an angry trumpet from a distance.
Quick to respond, Anupa, along with her brother in law, grabbed her three children and went inside the house to take shelter. For a moment, there was no sound leaving them to wonder if the elephant had taken a different route-avoiding their house. That was soon resolved by a loud crash outside their house. Peeping out of her window, Anupa saw that the elephant was standing right there - breaking the beds they kept outside.
Instinctively, they took their kids and ran out of the house. She sent her kids the other way with her brother in law - while she ran towards the other houses for help. When she returned, all she found was shattered roofs and ruined walls. She had no choice but to stay with her neighbours till she received compensation to build her house. The authorities came to inspect the scene and get her statement about the incident.
Subsequently, she had to put forth her case in the next Gram Sabha meeting. That is
when she heard about a similar incident that happened in another village, in the same district….
In Bendora, 62 kilometres away from Anupa’s village - Chainpur - a herd of angry elephants caused much damage to a few houses and agricultural fields. One such person’s house was Francisca Minj.
She vaguely recollects that it was 7 pm when she first heard mayhem caused in her village by the elephants. There were loud sounds of destruction and screams of the villagers that kept getting louder as the herd moved towards her house. The shrill terrifying trumpet sound of the elephants warned Fransica of what was to be bestowed upon her and her family.
At the risk of running into the herd outside, her family had no choice but to leave the house. Struck with panic and no time to think, the three of them scattered in different directions with no solid plan to save themselves. Luckily, they all managed to escape in time only to come back and witness their immense loss.
The herd had broken some vessels, damaged the roof, clay walls of her house and had completely dismantled the door. It didn’t stop there, their rampage moved to the fields - damaging the paddy stock, black pulses (Urad dal), cattle pen and the kitchen garden. All her vegetables and pulses that had taken so long to grow - maize, corn, groundnut, potato, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower - were all uprooted with one swing of the elephant’s trunk. All this happened in the span of half an hour! Soon after, she had informed the local officials who came to inspect the scene of the incident- taking photos as proof.
It was in this same Gram Sabha meeting that both Anupa and Francisca were explaining their case of similar incidents in their respective villages. There were representatives from the forest department, Panchayat, the Gram Sabha, the Ward, the villagers and the police present. The reports prepared from the observations and photos of the initial visit to their villages were put forth in front of the group. Documents were submitted and discussions regarding compensation began.
Luckily for Anupa, her application was passed and she received the compensated amount and just had to rebuild her house. However, Francisca only received an oral narration of her compensation grant being sanctioned but hasn’t received the money till date. But she is hopeful that she will receive the amount within six months - as soon as the funds are approved.
Until then, they managed to temporarily make their house liveable, with a plan to rebuild it more efficiently once the money comes. However, there is still the fear of another visit of the herd.
Although the Gram Sabha provides some hope for the communities to get compensated in regard to the damage caused by elephant raids, the root of the problem of why conflict has increased is yet to be addressed. Historically, community managed commons ensured wildlife had access to resources and a right of passage. However, the last two decades have witnessed drastic land use change where common lands have been privatised for development and infrastructural projects, reducing spaces and resources for wildlife. The very same communities that once lived in harmony with wildlife are now facing the conflict of unplanned development because they are excluded in decisions that directly affect them. If it is anyone who has the knowledge to address human elephant conflict, it is these communities- they have historical information about elephant routes, a deep understanding of the animals behaviour and of course, they would know where the forest is being encroached for illegal mining. The local participation in the Gram Sabha facilitates the community to access their rights, represent themselves, learn about the laws, and contribute to decision making processes in their villages. Representation of all stakeholders ranging from wildlife conservation NGOs, Forest Department, Panchayat and the communities need to start having discussions about the infringement of illegal mining activities in elephant corridors at the Gram Sabha level. A combination of participatory maps prepared by the community and spatial data maps of mining areas overlapping elephant corridors would provide up to date evidence to build a solid case to tackle illegal mining.
For most of us, we feel far removed from the causes and consequences of illegal mining. But if we start to examine why mining is so rampant that it has moved to places where it is deemed ‘illegal’, we will realise that it is to meet the ever increasing demands in cities and towns and not the villages that are directly exposed to the immediate consequences. Our ever increasing standard of living that the market so readily provides, comes with huge social and ecological costs. As it is clearly seen now with the extreme climatic conditions, increased unemployment and reverse migration, these costs can no longer be ignored or swept under the carpet. If we have hopes for a just and sustainable future for our species, we need to act now and realise that we are all connected to different issues happening across the country and globe. Just being mindful about the things we own, consume and waste can take us a long way, be it land, electricity, food, water, fuel etc. Small steps towards being consciously aware of our consumption goes a long way to ensure a hopeful future, if we start now.
elephant attack in jharkhand orgy of elephants is increasing continuously in jharkhand 800 people have died in 11 years most of these districts srn | झारखंड में लगातार बढ़ रहा है हाथियों का तांडव, 11 साल में 800 लोगों की ले ली जान, इन जिलों में सबसे अधिक (prabhatkhabar.com)