Force of Habitat

The enduring challenges of mitigating human–elephant conflict

Villagers surround an elephant killed by electrocution in the Dharamjaigarh forest division in Chhattisgarh. subrata biswas
01 November, 2020

The Chhattisgarh government decided to create a 450-square-kilometre elephant reserve in Lemru, located in Korba district, in 2005. Even though the union environment ministry, which has been releasing funds to state governments under Project Elephant since 1992, sanctioned the project in 2007, the Raman Singh administration shelved the project the following year. Media reports claimed that the decision was taken to facilitate coal mining in Korba, a major industrial hub.

The state’s current chief minister, Bhupesh Baghel, decided to go ahead with the project upon assuming office, in December 2018. Wildlife activists and experts believe the reserve will benefit elephants and reduce conflict between the animals and humans. “There is considerable elephant movement in the state from Odisha and Jharkhand due to forest fragmentation and environmental degradation,” Prathmesh Mishra, a Bilaspur-based activist, told me, adding that the reserve would provide the migrant elephants a safe haven. “The human–elephant conflict is manageable, and coexistence is possible, as Chhattisgarh has good forest cover,” Manivasagan S, the divisional forest officer for Dharamjaigarh, which borders Korba, told me.

According to a 2002 report by the Wildlife Trust of India, although elephants were driven to extinction in northern Chhattisgarh in the early twentieth century, their migration to the area from neighbouring states was first noticed in 1988. In 1993, the report said, the Madhya Pradesh government captured ten elephants in an attempt to deter migration. However, “elephants have regularly gained access to Chhattisgarh, disproving the previous capture theory. Human–elephant conflict cases have been increasing [since] 2000, as the number of migratory elephants straying into Chhattisgarh increased.”

The forest divisions of Dharamjaigarh and Korba had recorded regular movement of a large herd of between twelve and fourteen elephants, the report found. “There are no records to show that this herd returned to Jharkhand or Orissa,” it said. “It is possible that these elephants migrated from West Singhbhum district (mainly from Saranda, Kolhan and Porhat forest divisions) through forest patches in Ranchi and Gumla districts of Jharkhand, the reason being a large-scale disturbance to their original habitat.”