Wild tuskers' westward move creates panic

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Bhopal, Dec 11: Re-emergence of wild elephants in Madhya Pradesh's forests is ironically both exhilarating as well as a cause for concern.

Lately, pachyderms have been observed roaming in jungles of Sidhi and Shahdol districts adjoining Chhattisgarh while isolated cases of elephant poaching were also reported, Forests Department officials told the sources.

Westward movement of tuskers in recent years, wreaking havoc in the countryside in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, is reminiscent of a similar menace in central India in pre-independence days.

Authorities are taking steps to prevent elephant-people conflict.

Migration of pachyderms from Orissa, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to adjoining areas in Chhattisgarh and later to Madhya Pradesh has caused panic with extensive damage to property besides loss of life.

An ideal habitat, with abundance of bamboo and water, is what attracts the animals to Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Forests Department sources said that though tuskers roamed the bamboo-rich woods in central India before independence, various reasons rendered them almost extinct in Madhya Pradesh for about four decades till 1988, when a few herds entered Jashpur district of Chhattisgarh (in undivided Madhya Pradesh) from Bihar.

Since then, there has been continuous inflow of elephants in Chhattisgarh and at present there are about 120 pachyderms in Sarguja, Korba, Koriya and Jashpur districts, the officials said.

In Madhya Pradesh, tuskers were first observed in Sidhi district in 2002. The elephants enter in herds of about six to 12, wander for a few weeks or months and then move back to Chhattisgarh or Uttar Pradesh. For the past few years, the movement of pachyderms was confined to the forest in Sidhi district. However, in March this year a herd of six -- including two calves -- entered Shahdol district from Chhattisgarh and moved further westward upto Gohparu Range in South Shahdol Forest Division in a month.

These tuskers stay in the jungles during the day and come down to drink water during the night. They also venture to search for grain, 'mahua' flower and other eatables in fields and houses causing damage to property of villagers.

Madhya Pradesh's Chief Wildlife Warden P B Gangopadhyay told to the sources that the Forests Department was taking steps to minimise damage to villagers' property and keep pachyderms away by bursting fireworks and lighting torches. Compensation is also doled out to villagers whose property is damaged. ''Steps are being taken to prevent elephant-people conflict,'' he added.

Along with growing concern over Madhya Pradesh's dwindling tiger population -- at least 12 tigers fell prey to poachers in the past five years -- poaching of a tusker each in 2005 and 2006 was also reported.

Meanwhile, Dr Gangopadhyay has drawn the attention of the Director, Project Elephant, Environment and Forests Ministry, to the movement of pachyderms in Madhya Pradesh and impressed on the need for a study on the westward movement.

Several incidents of tuskers straying into villages damaging houses and standing crop have been reported in Shahdol district.

In Chhattisgarh's Jashpur district, a few villagers lost their lives in elephant attacks.


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