The foresters in the Chittoor district were delighted when the Asian elephants reappeared in the Kuppam area after a break of a century in the early 1980s. By 1990, the Koundinya Conservation Area, which spans about 1 acre of forest in the western Palamaner, Kuppam, and Chittoor areas and is flanked by Tamil Nadu and Karnatakawas, was ready for the pachyderms.
The number of elephants, which stood in the single digits four decades ago, has now risen to over a hundred, including those in the Koundinya Sanctuary. Now the threat from elephants has become a problem for foresters and farmers as the animals frequently invade agricultural land and damage crops, leading to human-animal conflicts. Nine elephants were electrocuted in fiscal year 2019-20, and half a dozen people died during the same period. Many villagers were injured in jumbo attacks.
Even if forest officials dug elephant-proof trenches, erected sun fences, and installed rock pillars to prevent elephants from entering human habitats, none of these measures have proven adequate to contain the threat.
Radio collar project
Between 2016 and 2018, around £ 40 million was spent on trenches and fencing to cover porous interstate borders. The Ministry of Forestry was also discussing a radio collar project for stray elephants at a cost of £ 50 lakh, but this was discontinued for technical reasons.
What worries forest officials in Chittoor District is that the forest areas are poorly populated with healthy elephant populations, while much of the available workforce is on the verge of retirement. The operations to drive the stray elephants into the forests of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka require at least a dozen elephant trackers and observers.
Officials say the elephants continue to outsmart them, adding that it is impossible to monitor the forest stretch over a hundred kilometers with the manpower available.
Frequent harvest attacks
The three-state junction has witnessed frequent crop attacks by elephants from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which have a pachyderm population of more than 7,000, officials say.
Even if several plans have been made for meetings of forest officials from the three states to resolve the interstate problem, no concrete results have been achieved at the moment.
In January of this year, three elephants from Tamil Nadu ventured into the Nagari and Puttur plains after crossing several areas over 170 km. Three months have passed and officials have yet to come up with a plan of action to fight the group and prevent the harvest attacks.
“One of the main reasons for the importance of elephants in the Chittoor district is the increasing population of the animals in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The herds continue to move from Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu to the tri-state hub area in Chittoor for food, water and virgin land. We are exploring all possible ways to address the interstate problem, ”said S. Ravi Shankar, Divisional Forest Officer (Chittoor West) The Hindu.