The difficulty of doing

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

A quick update: After the baby elephant died in childbirth, the herd stayed on for a while and then moved (minus one elephant) away to other Forest divisions. Now, after two months roaming (being driven around?) the Salem area, they are back in the Vellalapatti-Kathiripatti area near the Kalrayan Hills.
It also seems that the mother did not move away with the rest of the herd, and died subsequently. She is buried near Erivalavu.

We need collaboration between those who now seem antagonistic towards one another.

The “Elephant People” who can advise, should have effective channels of communication. If e-mail IDs are defunct, they should be shut down: one needs to know that no-one is listening. If the experts are busy, surely they can pass the query on to a colleague or a student.
I must also say that there were some who were extremely prompt in replying to e-mails from a complete stranger; they probably get many such e-mails ; and replying takes some doing.

The activists who work towards helping villagers get compensation for crop losses or house damage need to see that attacking the Forest Department gets one nowhere. In the end, it is the Forest Department who finally ACT on the ground.

The much-maligned Forest Department needs training, motivation and wherewithal to tackle the problem; ideally to see that a problem does not arise in the first place.There needs to be Department-Public interactions at multiple levels. An active web presence would help. Otherwise, the image of the Forest guard as a corrupt person who makes a quick buck out of others’ (people or elephants) troubles is going to persist.

As a person on Ground Zero, as it were, my sentiments will be “It’s OK, let the elephants eat a bit; let them damage a few trees” until they head for my house, when I shall have no recourse but to burst crackers, especially since that is what the Forest Department is doing.

For us and many of the villagers, there is no antagonism towards the elephants at the moment; in fact there is a sense of being enriched by their presence. But it will not take much for the situation to degenerate and become a “man-elephant” conflict.

It behooves us all to use the existing “goodwill” to save the situation. Trained koonkies to move the herd back where they belong? (though it is by no means clear where they belong). Or a long and arduous but necessary program of educating the villagers in what can be done; what must be done; if the elephants are to co-exist with them here.

Please, everyone, feel free to comment (again) on the blog. The elephants are here (again). Time is running out.


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12 Responses to “The difficulty of doing”

  1. jogesh Says:


    When we visited Bandhavgarh some years back, we found that the forest guards (beat guards) were usually the most exploited, underpaid, ill-treated persons in the pecking order. And they were often the only ones working and with intimate knowledge of their environs (I raise your behooves!!!!).

    what you can do – befriend the elephants, do a jane goodall.

    we must visit soon.

  2. Guddu Says:


    I think the drier than normal monsoon must have something to do with this. Lareef Zubair of Sri Lanka had written a report many years ago that the elephants wander into agricultural land there during El Nino years because of rainfall deficit and drier forests. Sukumar of IISc followed up the work and wrote that a similar behavior is found around Mysore also. He is an expert on elephants and may be able to help. He is in the ecology department of IISc, Bangalore. Best,

  3. gaurav1729 Says:

    Have you considered asking Jayant Kulkarni for advice on this?

  4. Sharat Says:

    Believe Yogesh Dwivedi (H7) is a forest officer in Chennai……worth talking to him too….will see if I can reach him thru the yahoo group….

  5. Chandra Says:

    Can put you in touch with Raman Sukumar, if that is of any help. He is the leading elephant expert in the country.

  6. K V Says:

    I read about this person somewhere in Karnataka who has set up
    along with villagers a network, I think this was sponsored by the Nature conservation foundation, a group that Rana works a lot with. The volunteers are trained to keep track of elephant movements and send SMS’s to a some in the group who then alert village AO’s. Then the usual happens – villagers play drums if they know the elephants are approaching and have managed to keep them away. But as someone wrote, this has also to do with the fact that there is really no monsoon anywhere in TN. You should talk to Rana/ send him an email – maybe he knows the person who has organized this in K’taka.

  7. sunder and sonati Says:

    I am going to copy-and-paste some of the well thought out (and sobering) responses which we had by e-mail. First from MD Madhusudan who is at NCF, and is also a member of the Elephant Task Force. (did anyone know such a thing existed?)

    MD Madhusudan says “Many thanks for writing with this information.

    I recently heard of a herd (that was in the Javadi hills for the last couple of years) that had started to move west and then southwards. They may be the ones that have shown up at your door. If they indeed are, they seem to be a group that has been moving for quite a while now. Even in the Javadi Hills, where there was a fairly vast extent of human-free habitat, these animals apparently confined themselves to the forest fringes and raided crops.

    I am afraid there are no easy solutions to manage such itinerant herds… these are such big, powerful animals that it is virtually impossible to confine them to places they don’t want to be in. The curiosity and even compassion that their arrival has triggered in people unused to elephants, often, quickly changes to annoyance and then a deep resentment as material and human losses follow.

    All one can hope at this point is that these animals head northwest towards the Cauvery, where there are extensive tracts of habitat and settle down there.

    I truly am sorry if this email does not offer a clear solution: these are complex problems and I doubt clear solutions exist to such problems!”

    I wrote back: “Thanks for taking the time to write. I see from what you and many others are saying that perhaps the time when the elephants could co-exist with man are over. It just seemed that all the compassion that exists could be turned to useful purpose if there were some mechanism to do so.

    Are there no koonkies anywhere which can actually guide such elephants to some destination?

    Is this phenomenon of random itinerant herds showing up in non-elephant country (well, non-recent-elephant country) happening all over the country these days? I have heard of the Hassan-Coorg problems but that is more one of elephants spilling out of their homes not migrating on a long march…

    Thanks and warm regards: ”

    And then he said:” Some quick comments:

    At a large scale, co-existence is our only option, but when you contextualise the concept of coexistence at local scales, one can’t impose it on people, it can only be offered by local communities, I think. What I meant to say is that in most places, when elephants come in as unusual visitors, they are welcomed and worshipped. But, when crops start to perish under their feet or people lose dear ones to them, they soon become guests that have overstayed their welcome. I think we must invest in building upon the vast cultural funds of tolerance and compassion that exist natively in India, and there, I am afraid neither the government nor NGOs like ourselves have been very effective at a scale that matters.

    Koonkies would work well to push back small groups that have moved short distances out of habitat tracts where they have stable home ranges. They are not much help in the kind of case you mention because they can effectively only chase after the group and not ‘push’ them clearly in a particular direction. And even if they did, they have no dependable way of sustainably confining these animals to places into which they are driven.

    Yes, these long range movements have been reported from South Bengal, North Bengal, Orissa, Andhra (a group moved into the Tirupati hills from around Hosur a few years ago), Maharashtra, and even northwest of Bangalore. Usually they are small bands of males, but as in yoru case, they may be herds too. We don’t really know why and when these animals move… serious disturbance in their home ranges are conjectured to be the cause for these long range movements.

    The Hassan problem is a different one. It is one where a couple of dozen animals have stably taken up residence in an area of approximately 300 sq km that is 99% farmland and 1% forest. There is nowhere, but into other farms, that one can drive these elephants. And there have been heavy losses on both sides.

    And Coorg has such a dissected interface between farmland and forest that there is no conceivable way that people and elephants can stay out of each others’ way.

    So, the symptoms of conflict and similar, but the causes are extremely varied. And our wisdom and practicality are both limited.”

  8. sunder and sonati Says:

    Next from Shekar Dattatri who basically indicated what I suspected; that the buck stops with us 🙂

    His response, you can see at the Conservation India site:

    He ended with the pertinent statement that “As someone wise once said, the greatest danger to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it!”

  9. Tarsh Thekaekara Says:

    Hi Sunder,
    Its great that you are still holding on to the buck! Some research would be useful at this juncture to find out if the elephants can possibly have a long term home there. Will talk about this more in due course.
    All elephant solutions have to be long term and ongoing, but
    I believe they can (and must!) work. You are very well placed to do this. If we as a country all bank on a complete human nature separation, it will be the death sentence for the vast majority of our wildlife. We will only have pockets of zoo like protected areas left, and will have to keep carting animals between them to prevent extinction from genetic stagnation.

  10. Gopakumar Menon Says:

    Hello Sunder,
    I have a farm in Javalagiri village, close to the Javalagiri forest, which is, thinly attached to a larger stretch that goes on to the Kalrayans. Every winter, there is a severe conflict between humans and elephants. Most encounters happen between 5 am and 7 am

    I agree with a number of comments mentioned above. Principally, one needs to use the ‘precautionary principle’. One cause of conflict is that village folk – particularly women – venture outdoors before daylight to ‘relieve themselves’. They do not use torches and encounters with elephants is a common enough result in winter. At Ragihalli, about twenty km from Bangalore, there are regular human deaths as a result.
    Two simple steps, one immediate, the other medium term. Asking people to use torches with a high beam and using the newly enhanced TN subsidy to construct toilets attached to homes (which has other benefits anyways).

  11. sunder and sonati Says:

    And take a look at this report of an Elephant Task Force

  12. Mani Says:

    Hi My name is Mani. Last week when I was speaking to my cousin who lives near Paithanthurai in Kallkurichi / Chinnasalem area, she said the elephants had come to her farm and brought down a door to her “Kooari Veedu”. She was so nervous. I am happy that the elephants still roam our native place of Salem / South Arcot area. One of our neighbors who is probably about 90 years old recounted the times when her husband used to bring deers and wild boars after he went for a hunt in the same forests. I was astonished to hear her say the word “Mahogany” and decribe how prestine the forest was. I think if the forest department digs some borewells or something,in the middle of the hills some place, the elephants will not crsoss into the agricultural forms. Can anybody talk to the forest department officials about this? I feel for the distress of my cousin but at the same time I am happy that the elephants are not giving up their homeland.

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