Why Are People Vulnerable In Odisha’s Elephant-Human Conflict During Summer?

Bhubaneswar: Come summer and more and more humans become victims of human-elephant encounters in Odisha.

This was the outcome of data analysis of humans trampled by elephants and the incidents of encounters between villagers and elephants in Odisha in the past four years during the summer by environmental pressure group Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO).

“Encounters with elephants see a sharp rise during the summer as elephants feed mainly on fruits due to the shortage of fodder and water in the forests,” WSO’s Biswajit Mohanty was quoted as saying in The Hindu.

WSO statistics

  • 527 persons died and 442 sustained injures in elephant attacks from April 2017 to April 2021.
  • Of them, 117 (22-23%) deaths took place in the months of April, May and June.

Why does this happen?

“This happens because people and elephants come face to face frequently when Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) like mahua, mango, jackfruit, bael fruit, kaitha (wood apple) and cashew are harvested,” Mohanty told The Hindu.

“This is also the time when kendu leaves are collected by lakhs of tribal women for their livelihood. During summer, elephants also raid villages for stored food grains and liquor,” the study finds.

“The alarming casualty figures, especially during summer, shows that Odisha’s control over human-elephant conflict is dismal though crores of rupees are being spent on mitigation measures,” Mohanty was quoted as saying while alleging that Odisha’s Forest Department had done precious little to contain the rise in human-elephant conflict.

What WSO is doing

The pressure group has asked the Centre’s Project Elephant to intervene in the matter. It has also requested the wildlife wing of the State Forest Department to monitor the awareness drives in high conflict divisions such as Angul, Dhenkanal, Athagarh, Rairakhol, Sambalpur, Athamalik, Keonjhar and Deogarh.

“Fatal encounters with elephants during summer can be easily reduced if locals are cautioned and certain steps are taken. Such repeated human kills can lead to panic reactions and animosity towards elephants. Irate crowds may also react violently to the elephants as well as department staff, and resort to public agitation,”  Mohanty told The Hindu.

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