Elephants in our backyard


Last week, the boys were all set to walk down to Sittilingi through the Aruvankadu forest, when we heard the “buzz” of the elephants.

Ramsub on his bike and Jaga in his jeep had been detained at the Pappanaickenpatti check-post for more than an hour by the Foresters. Eventually they were allowed to go up in convoys.

The next day we heard from various people that there was a pregnant elephant in the herd of seven or eight, and that the Forest department had blocked the road down to Salem for bikes. The Foresters were trying to move the herd towards where they came from, but with water and cover available the elephants stayed put.

I heard of crop losses (sugarcane eaten up, mango trees damaged) in Moolapadi, Eeshankadu and Erivalavu; but in all this the attitude of the villagers was one of concern for the elephants in spite of apprehension for their crops and houses. In fact, one man who had lost some trees said, “Ivlo peria jivanam, evlo theeni thevai athukku, paavam…” (“Such a large life-force, how much food it will need, poor thing…”). I never came across any antagonism towards the elephant or any widespread panic as reported in the media. The trouble is that if the elephants approach a village, the villagers will set off crackers: What options do they have?

And the Foresters, without any experience of dealing with elephants in these parts–these are the first elephants in the living memory of the oldest of the villagers–also had no recourse but to set off crackers to move the herd.

So then, who will speak for the elephants? With their range fragmented and this a drought year, they have probably strayed in here in search of water: That is the guess of most people.

Conflict with humans causes great stress to the elephants. Presumably, they, too would like to set off crackers, if they could, to keep us humans at bay.

A couple of days ago, we heard that the calf was still-born or died soon after birth, This calf was lost, no matter what the autopsy shows, because we humans could not leave the herd alone to have the baby in peace.

This may be the first time elephants have come to these hills, but I fear it is not the last. The Forest Department needs to prepare itself for any eventuality, and needs to train its people here to act in an emergency in such a way that no harm comes to humans or to elephants. In the long run, I don’t see any alternative to moving elephant herds other than trained koonkies.

As of today, I hear that the elephants have climbed the hill towards Vengayakurichi and are headed back the way they came.

If this transpires, it is indeed fortunate, but it has happened more due to the intelligence of the elephant than that of man.


Tags: , , , ,

9 Responses to “Elephants in our backyard”

  1. Prabhakar Says:

    Nice note of the elephants in the Sitllingi area. A map of the area with markings would be a great visualizer of the landscape that has locked in the elephants.

    We need to prepared for such incidents. And with increasing polarization between agricultural areas and protected forests, such incidents are bound to increase all over the country.

    Are the policy makers and managers listening??

  2. rita banerji Says:

    There is some interesting work being done by Anand from NCF Nature Conservation foundation in Valaparai, TN . It will be good if someone from the area contacts them.

  3. Guddu Says:

    Svai, Lareef Zubair, a friend at Clumbia Univ had done a nice study of human-elephant conflicts in Sri Lanka. When an El Nino occurs in the Pacific, a rainfall deficit is the result leading to reduced vegetation and food for elephants. They then tend to wander into agricultural land for food. Watching the El Nino forecasts closely gives them many months of warning on potential elephant invasions. Similar signals exist in parts of India and it would be nice to see if the villagers have anecdotal evidence of when elephants tend to make an appearance in their area and whether those are always related to droughts. 2012 is showing signs of being an El Nino year!

  4. paravaigal Says:

    It is true that the people here are more sympathetic to the pachyderms than to the forester rangers! I overheard in Karumandurai a very happy exclamation “enga orrla yaanai kutti potturitche” ( elephant delivered baby in our lucky village!”.
    The forest rangers have some time-pass at least in this part where nothing much happens; they are becoming more and more innovative to convert this into a money maker: they stop trucks blaming them for the distraction of elephants and take bribes ( otherwise the truck would be seized !)
    As of now, everyone has taken it cool and letting things to “happen”. While it is nice philosophically, the poor farmers need to pay for this non-action. It is time that trained people and elephants from other experienced camps come here and guide the lost souls back to their habitat.
    I hope the senior people in the department act fast before some catastrophe happens on the road. . .

  5. chandra Says:

    will be worth sharing with mansoor & tina – they are in exactly the same predicament – http://acres-wild.com/. my limited facebook skills prevent me from networking you guys.

  6. sunder and sonati Says:

    Piyush says and I copy-and-paste

    The Elephant herd in Kalrayan hills were spotted earlier in Vellore Range three to four months back. While once spotted they need to be continously monitored. But this herd which suddenly appeared in Kalrayan Hills, took the already ignorant forest department (Salem – Attur Range) unaware & then started a saga of mismanagement of a situation which has led to a catastrophe. Trained Elephant watchers in Nilgiris whose services are utilised country wide in similar situations were not called or consulted with. Expert wildlife vets services from annamalais, nilgiris & periyar tiger reserve could have been used but unfortunately services of experts in explosives were put to use. The extensive use of country bombs purchased locally by the Forest Department Officials led to the death of a new born calf.

    Public interviewed in five villages were wondering on the how elephants cornered on all sides by the forest staff & explosives could make their way to the forest. Every operation went without any planning & showed signs of mismanagement & panic amongst ranks of the forest department. Their ultimate motive was to get rid of the herd rather than to create a conducive environment for its transit.

    The herd already under stress due to the presence of two young ones & a elephant in the final stages of it’s pregnancy was put to great stress by the Forest Department. The complete insensitivity of the forest department was displayed when they started a round of bursting the explosives while it delivered a calf. The frightened mother dragged its calf probably causing its death. Forest Department has claimed that it was still born. The Post mortem was attempted on the second day by burning tyres & bursting crackers to keep the herd away. The post mortem was done by local vet’s from karmandurai & thumbal who take care of cattle and whose knowledge on elephants anatomy & physiology is doubtful.

    The Forest Department in their press release laced with lies & with assistance from arm chair reporters have asserted that the calf was still born & claimed that it was the panic stricken villagers who had caused stress to the herd of elephants by bursting crackers. Even groups like Tamilnadu Green Movement (TNGM) failed to take notice of the ground realities & welcomed the non existent crop compensation plan for the farmers. After the press published this report esp by The New Indian Express, Speak Out Salem in a fact finding effort visited six villages. Dr.Vijayan, Seshagiri, Sundar & Piyush interviewed the people who expressed no dissent or anger against the elephants. A few farmers infact welcomed the elephants & pitied them on being lost in a place where they did not belong. All the villagers confirmed the fact that it was the forest department who had purchased explosives & they were the ones who were all along using the same.

    TNGM has appealed to the forest department to safe guard the herd. This is very amusing & seems to betray the tenets of conservation, as it is the actions of the forest department. We demand that criminal action be taken on all those who were responsible for the death of the elephant calf.

    A judicial enquiry be constituted into the whole affair. The press who have carried misleading statements & blamed the tribals & villagers for the death of the calf based on the department’s fabricated statement carry a rejoinder with regard to the same.

  7. sunder and sonati Says:


    A video (courtesy Piyush) of the herd which is now near the Toppur ghat section on the Salem-Bangalore National Highway

  8. Macmohan Says:

    Crowd management and rescue of people needs involvement of Police and fire service personal also. Crop compensation needs district administration involvement including, VAO, Tashildar, Agricultural department also.

    It clearly shows neither Speak-out Salem nor Piyush knows anything about the elephants and Crop compensation.

    Instead of blaming others who work for the cause of nature and environment, it is better to help those affected by filing crop compensation applications with district administration. A retrospection before cut and paste is better.

  9. The difficulty of doing « Thekambattu Says:

    […] The elephants brought home to us the fact that to actually do something on the ground is indeed very difficult. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s