Shubhangi Singh: Elephants play a very important role in the India. They are integral to not only the Indian ecological panorama but also to it’s cultural and religious landscape. Various forms of motifs representing the elephants have deeply embedded itself in the Indian cultural landscape, thus, alleviating these gigantic mammals to a position of mythical and divine statures. Through these channels, elephants have made their way into our society, our homes and into our hearts.
Man and elephants have co-existed since the beginning of time but, due to rapid urbanisation, recent times have seen a growing conflict between the elephants and man jostling for space, often leading to unfortunate results. In Karnataka — Kodagu and Banerghatta National Park near Bangalore — have traditionally been home to the majestic Asiatic Elephants. Banerghatta National Park, that stretches across 261 sq km is among the last remaining tropical dry thorn forests of peninsular India. An increase in human population and agriculture around these areas have reduced the size of large homes that these elephants require. As one can imagine, herds of elephants need wide ranges of land for their mobility but due to extensive loss of habitat, has resulted in the raiding of nutritionally attractive crops found in the region. This raiding and destroying of property by the large mammals has lead to several conflicts with the local human population. Millions of rupees is lost in destruction of property and crops. At times, also resulting in death— that of human as well as the elephants. Due to rapid urbanisation, such human-elephant conflicts have only escalated in the area since the late 1990s. .
In a bid to mitigate the recurrent losses, new solutions have been adopted in the affected regions. Physical barriers separating the forested and the non-forested areas in conflict-prone zones have been created to keep the elephants away. Since 2004, in Kodagu alone, 260 kms of trenches have been dug in addition to 322 kms of solar powered fences that have been erected with a total cost of Rs 94.3 million. While these costs may appear to be uncomfortably high, analysis of the Costs vs. Benefits of putting these physical barriers in place show otherwise. In both, Banerghatta National Park as well as Kodagu, the benefit-cost ratios are high, indicating that the present barriers are useful mitigation measure. By building the fences, both, human as well as animal lives have known to be secured, the farm crops stay protected and with reduced threat to life and property, the residents would not need to relocate—an activity that demands an additional cost of roughly Rs. 72.3 million (US$ 1.2m). As you can imagine, nobody would be pleased at the prospect of moving out of their homes, their communities and rebuild their lives elsewhere, making this proposition extremely unfavourable amongst the locals. This is probably the reason why it was found that the locals are willing to contribute a fair amount per household to keep elephants at bay. This willingness to help on the part of locals, supplemented by the State Government’s plans to barricade one from the other could prove considerably helpful to limit the interaction between the large mammals and affected humans.
Mitigation of conflicts can lead to improved revenue for the Banergatta National Park area because, afterall, more elephants mean more tourism, doesn’t it? So, while we explore more ways for human and the elephants to share land in perfect harmony, let us all make some room for these gentle giants!