Wildlife conservationist Vinod Krishnan worked with Nature Conservation Foundation and studied the human-elephant conflict in Hassan for six years. His work focusses on designing mitigation strategies through research and stakeholder engagement. In this interview, Krishnan talks of why a permanent solution is elusive.
Why do you say a permanent solution is not possible?
We sometimes see conflict just from a human perspective. It is very important to also view this from the elephant’s perspective. Elephants are habitat generalists and can survive in various habitat types. The fragmented landscape of Hassan, dominated by coffee estates and agricultural fields, is able to cater to the animal’s dietary needs, and makes it a preferable area for the elephants despite the risks of living in human-dominated landscapes.
The Karnataka Elephant Task Force in its 2012 report designated the region as an “Elephant Removal Zone”. Do you concur with this?
The loss of livelihoods due to crop and property damage has deeply affected local farmers and coffee planters. This has put immense pressure on the Karnataka Forest Department. With so much at stake, the KETF recommended a zone-based conservation approach and designated Hassan an “Elephant Removal Zone”. The Hassan elephant population, however, is not an isolated one. There is movement of elephants from Kodagu in the south, Chikkamagaluru to the north, and resident elephants in Bisle State Forest in Sakleshpur taluk, which is contiguous with the Western Ghats. It is important to note that there has been constant movement of elephants [to Hassan] from neighbouring areas. That is why despite the mass captures in 2013-14, there are now 60-65 elephants in the region.
As part of your work, you and your team devised the Early Warning System to apprise villagers of elephant movement. How successful is it?
A majority of human deaths in Hassan have occurred because people were unaware of elephant presence in their vicinity. The EWS has been a key intervention in minimising direct encounters between people and elephants. Coupled with Rapid Response Teams and radio collaring of a few elephants by the forest department, it has helped provide timely information about elephant presence.
Will the barrier made of railway barricades along the Hemavathi Reservoir prevent the influx of elephants from Kodagu to Hassan?
Barriers work well in landscapes with hard boundaries—forest on one side and human habitations on the other. In fragmented landscapes, large-scale barriers may have a negative impact on elephant movement, leading to conflict intensifying in some areas. Monitoring elephant movement between Hassan and Kodagu closely, where the railway barrier has already been deployed, would provide key insights on whether it is effective.