Odisha: Vulnerable elephants

Print edition : January 25, 2013

One of the elephants that were killed when a train hit them in the Rambha forest area, about 180 km south of Bhubaneswar, on December 29. Photo: AP

MUCH to the grief of wildlife lovers, five elephants were run over by the Chennai-bound Coromandel Express near Subalaya village in Ganjam district of Odisha on the night of December 29.

According to official estimates, the State has lost at least 310 wild elephants in the past five years. Poaching, electrocution and accidents are the main causes for the fall in elephant population. More than 60 elephants have died in the State since 2008-09 owing to electrocution, both accidental and deliberate. The pachyderms met with their death in different regions of the State when they came out of their natural habitats.

Until recently, the movement of wild elephants was confined to a few forested districts. But now elephant depredation is being noticed in as many as 26 of the 30 districts. Elephants stray into human habitations primarily because of loss of their natural habitats on account of excessive mining and unplanned developmental activities. The corridors elephants have used since time immemorial have also suffered irreparable damage in recent years.

The Naveen Patnaik government has been ineffective in checking the spurt in elephant deaths. A series of joint meetings of the State’s Forest and Environment Department and Energy Department and the power distribution companies have failed to yield the desired results.

Not a single official, be it from power distribution companies or from the State government, has been taken to task for the lapses that caused the elephant deaths.

While sagging live wires in the rural pockets continue to snap the lives of precious wildlife, poachers kill elephants in the Similipal National Park and other sanctuaries of the State. Since 2009, more than 30 pachyderms have been killed using firearms and poison in Similipal, which is managed by the Forest and Environment Department.

The State government shifts the blame to the power distribution companies in the cases of electrocution deaths and to the Railways when elephants are fatally hit by trains.

A similar blame game is now going on between the State government and the East Coast Railway after the latest tragic deaths. While the State Forest Department claims that it had informed the Railway authorities about the elephants crossing the rail lines, the latter maintain that they had received just one phone call exactly at the time the train mowed down the elephants.

Meanwhile, the pachyderms suffer on account of human indifference and the lack of coordination between different stakeholders in the State.

Prafulla Das

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