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

Tehelka - - CBI -

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-liing num­bers, a tiger had to pay the price

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