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Valuable Indian lessons on human-elephant conflict

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By JAGATH C. SAVANADASA
Email- jaysavana123@gmail.com

It is an absorbing and insightful success story about the management of the most visible and emotional man versus animal conflicts between humans and elephants.

This article examines the methods and techniques deployed at times using modern technology by India, to minimise damage besides conserving elephants and protecting human life.

This is indeed an object lesson on how a huge complex yet powerful nation has achieved success to preserve a large elephant population

This article is culled from a news magazine India Today published weekly, which has a worldwide circulation.

At the centre of the conflict is the ultimate tragedy – the deaths of both humans and the animals.

Briefly, it begins with the encroachment of the elephant habitat by man. This forces these animals to venture out of their forest confines in search of food. The result more often than not is a deadly clash.

In legal and glorified terms it could be called territorial aggrandizement either way by man or elephant.

Of course, there are other relevant factors like the unavailability of water for elephants following persistent droughts, and changing climatic patterns and damage to cultivation by elephants, leading to grain and food shortages for villagers.

But let us begin this narrative with an incident relating to recent elephant deaths in India.

Out of a herd of 13 elephants, seven had died following their contact with a loosely dangling live K.V line in a paddy field in the district of Odisha, due to electrocution. This led to an immediate response, signifying how alert the relevant authorities are in India. An institution named The National Green Tribunal, through a newly formed committee, had examined carefully the actual cause of the tragedy. Following its findings, the committee called on the local power utility to make a deposit of I.R. 1 crore the equivalent of I.R. 10 million, since it held that the deaths of the precious animals were due to apathy and negligence of the utility.

The deposit was to be made to the warden of wildlife.

 

The Indian elephant population

It is interesting to note that the Indian population of elephants which is between 27,000 and 30,000 is the largest of the species of a single country in Asia, which currently has a population of 40,000. These figures are, however, subject to dispute.

In terms of the deaths of these animals, each year it ranges from 100-120.

In contrast, arising from the conflict between the two, about 1300 people have died in India over the last 4 years.

One reason adduced to this situation, based on research, clearly shows the depletion of forests is the prime factor. Arising from this is the fact that the depletion impels the elephants to search for new habitats, which often go into villages.

Thus there emerges a disastrous situation, the Indian report opines.

On the other hand, “India Today” contends that her elephant population has stabilized, and that it is not the human- elephant combat that is at the heart of the issue but the destruction of forests.

 

Mega herbivores

Elephants are a large migratory species. It is reported to have a travel range of approximately 150-350 sq. kilometers annually.

Elephants also have, on the basis of their huge body proportions, an equally huge appetite and in order to satisfy their needs, they target fields and plantations nearby their usual habitats. Each elephant consumes on an average 150 kg of food and 200-300 litres of water daily.

Quite often one could see, in the media, these lovable creatures in desperate search of food, making forays into places outside their usual domain, only to be mowed down by rail. One could also see pictures of men lying on the ground killed by elephants when they enter fields.

Evidence in India, as much as in Sri Lanka, the latter to a limited extent points to the fact that it is mainly development projects such as roads and transmission lines, apart from mines and dams that make great inroads into the elephant habitat and disrupt their life patterns.

Additionally in India a big canal in extent 16 km for a hydro-electricity project in Uttarakhand resulted in paving the way to destroying an existing elephant boundary. Adding fuel to this problem, is the open border between India and Nepal, only for humans.

Elephants are kept out of it through a 17 k.m fence. The Indian elephant population, the article reveals, had been subject to forced migration due to rampant mining activity in Odisha. Such activity had begun in the 1980s and as a result today about 300 elephants are relocated within 30000 Sq Km of forest in Chhattisgarh. Similar changes have been carried out in Jharkhand and every year about 150 elephants are moved into this territory.

A local terrorist group called Bodo, which was active for about a decade in the 1980s, had led to the death of about 100 elephants annually from 1980-1990.

 

Project Elephant

In 1992 India introduced the Project Elephant plan incorporating Elephant Reserves. Conceptually the plan was designed to create Elephant Reserves that should encounter minimum resistance from the local populace. 30 such reserves are in existence today, and their combined land area is approximately 60,000 SQ Km.

Significantly this has led to impressive results. In the last 37 years the elephant population doubled to 30,000 on the basis of a 2017 census.

However a resultant major issue is the presence of a big elephant population in areas that cannot support them.

 

Habitat Management

India, in the manner of Sri Lanka, though ours is of a lesser magnitude, considers habitat management a formidable task. Though India has identified some 160 odd elephant corridors (which unlike Sri Lanka) includes 17 international corridors between India and Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal, all inter-connected nations of course on one or single land mass. Only these 17 are considered a safe passage for elephants.

They are spread over an area of 1600-2000 Sq km. but in terms of area only about 600 to 800 Sq km’s are genuinely safe areas.

 

Poaching

Poaching in India is severely curtailed, thanks to remedial action and also due to shortage of tuskers. This menace is likely to return once the elephants born in the 1980s would have grown tusks.

Also, according to the Wildlife Institute of India (W.I.I) the population of elephants need monitoring scientifically. Especially, the mother-to-calf ratio, or the number of breeding cows per 100 specimens

However, it needs to be mentioned that policies applied in respect of tiger conservation, which India carried out successfully, cannot be applied to elephant conservation. The rationale is that you could keep tigers within their reserves, but this is not possible in case of elephants.

But in certain areas of India a degree of success has been achieved, and inviolate habitats for elephants are created by moving human populations outside the areas reserved for elephants.

 

New conservation measures

An innovation that seems successful is the installation of bio-acoustics based sensors along rail tracks in Assam and West Bengal. It is reported that these sensors are able to track the sounds arising from elephant movement and transmit them to a control centre. As a result 10 drivers could initiate evasive action.

Bio-acoustics are already utilized in the oceans which monitor movement of whales and dolphins. The objective is to prevent them from swimming onto ships and other sea borne vessels .

Professor Michael Andrew of the University of Catalina, Spain a global expert in Bio Acoustics who is responsible for its introduction to India, calls this a major breakthrough. He adds passive acoustics technology offers a unique opportunity to balance human interests and wildlife conservation, but another view notes that sensors are just one way to detect the presence of elephants. In other words it is just a tool. According to a leading Indian expert Prof. Raman Sukumar of the Indian Institute of Science, sensors need to be supplemented with other techniques.

Despite a few drawbacks, one could visualize the coherent and cogent policies India has applied in preventing elephant deaths and also minimizing damage in this seemingly intractable conflict between man and elephant.

 

 

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Opinion

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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