Conserving the Jumbo and its Habitat in Odisha, India
One of the major elephant habitats of eastern India, Odisha, is witnessing growing incidents of elephants coming out of their traditional forest habitats. This has caused a marked increase in human-elephant conflict, including deaths on both sides, and a rise in elephant poaching, particularly over the last decade and a half. The state government has now realised that it is essential to scientifically analyse the quality of habitat of the elephants and validate the carrying capacity of forests, which are housing them. Asian Nature Conservation (ANCF), Bangalore, has been asked by the Odisha Government to conduct a study to assess the carrying capacity of elephant’s habitats in Odisha, to ensure a sustainable habitat for the Jumbos and to minimise human-elephant conflict.
The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Odisha, S Srivastav, and Raman Sukumar Managing Trustee of ANCF and a leading ecologist at the Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore) signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 22nd February 2014, in the presence of the state’s Forest and Environment Minister, Bijayshree Routray. S Srivastav PCCF (Wildlife), elaborated that the study by experts over a period of two and a half years will focus on how to improve the present condition of elephant habitats. Scientists and biologists of ANCF will take note of the availability of food, shelter, water bodies and elephant corridors in the existing elephant sanctuaries and recommend suggestions to the forest department and government at the end of the research.
The proposed study will cover all major elephant habitats of Odisha. Elephant corridors that are regularly used by migrating elephants will form an integral part of the review. While the whole state will be covered, the three Elephant Reserves in Myurbhanj, Sambalpur and Mahanadi in particular will be looked at. These reserves house 75% of the total elephant population in the state, now estimated at 1,930 (Odisha elephant census-2012). ANCF would also prepare a database on elephant habitats and reserves in the State in GIS domain, and assess habitat viability for elephants. Additionally, it will make detail documentation and recommend steps for restoration of the stretch of Lakhery valley to Mahendragiri corridor, ANCF has advised seeking the help of local communities living in adjoining areas of the sanctuaries as an essential step to improve the habitats.
Raman Sukumar expressed that Odisha has a good elephant population, but sustaining the elephant habitat was a critical issue. The lack of proper wildlife management has resulted in a rise of elephant casualties in Odisha, mostly due to Human-animal conflict, poaching and electrocution. Over the last decade and a half, an increase in industrial and mining activities in and around elephant forests ranges of Odisha and bordering states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have resulted in loss, fragmentation, and degradation of elephant habitats. Coupled with the blocking of elephants corridors, which form a part of traditional elephant migratory routes, Odisha’s pachyderms are being increasingly forced to move out of traditional forest ranges and move into new territories, enter village areas to raid crops, all the while coming into dangerous conflict with humans.
The New Indian Express, Buhbanewshwar, in its coverage of the signing of the MoU reported that as many as 330 elephants died between 2008-09 and 2012-13, in Odisha state. During this period, elephants claimed as many 326 lives. Average human injury caused by the jumbos, remained around 30 p.a., but the crop damage jumped manifold — from 5,286 acre in 2008-09 to 14,034 acre in 2012-13. Besides, there are damage to houses and other assets. The Odisha Government, which paid compensation to the tune of Rs. 1.53 crore in 2008-09, ended up paying close to Rs. 10 crore in 2012-13.
It is hoped that revised suggestions for improved wildlife management from this study will, when implemented, make the natural carrying capacity of Odisha’s elephant ranges higher than what it is today. Raman Sukumar cites the promising example of SimilipalTiger Reserve (STR) in Mayurbhanj district, which he says has immense potential to become a conducive habitat for these pachyderms.