Two Faces of Public Good
Welfare of the wild should not compromise people’s safety. But our insensitivity is matched only by our administrative laxity
extensive crop damage in 79 affected villages while frequently injuring people.
As a result, the growing hostility of residents towards elephants and a frustrated administration has created a permanent state of emergency. People seldom go out after sundown and in the early hours. The local forest staff has been attacked on occasion and a number of elephants have been killed.
The task force found that “the current population of elephants in the Alur region did not exist there 30-40 years ago, but is a dispersing population from some larger population (most probably from the south), and it has moved in relatively recently”. These 26-odd elephants are completely cut off from other herds of the state and by themselves do not constitute a viable population.
It also ruled out building natural corridors as the animals, used to roaming the cropland, were not likely to take such paths back to the forests from where they wandered out. If anything, such corridors would only bring more elephants to these agricultural fields.
To create a suitable habitat, it argued, the government would have to acquire around 200 sq km of private land at a minimum cost of 2,500 crore and resettle tens of thousands of people. Even such expenditure would not ensure a long-term future of this small, isolated herd. So in its recent report, the task force recommended that all these elephants be captured and trained to be used by the forest department.
The task force, however, failed to identify and address the factors that made these elephants disperse from the source populations in the forest towards the south. Without fixing those issues, future dispersal and subsequent conflict cannot be ruled out just by creating physical barriers such as trenches and electric fences.
Nevertheless, the recommendation of removal is a sound, practical solution to a crisis caused by elephants encroaching on cropland and not by people taking over forests. This bold step will help conservation in the long run by sending the right message to the people.
In Wayanad, on the other hand, incidents of cattle-lifting have, in fact, come down this year. But insensitive hype over tiger numbers created a counter-constituency of affected people, which is now being milked by politicians. Then, as if to compensate for its over-enthusiasm, the administration let the mob take it out on a tiger.
• Lynch mob Despite falling cattle-liing numbers, a tiger had to pay the price