Rising jumbo death sets alarm bell ringing in Odisha
Bhubaneshwar, Nov 18: Odisha's failure in restoring elephants, encroachment of the elephant corridors, electrocution, unidentified diseases and accidents is leading to higher elephant casualties.
Since the elephant is a long range animal and travels vast distances in search of food and water,the forested links between reserves and sanctuaries called corridors had come under tremendous pressure. Seven elephants died due to electrocution on October 26, after coming in contact with a low-hanging 11 KV power line. The seven deaths in one incident was Odisha's worst pachyderm tragedy through electrocution.
The biggest elephant tragedy in the state earlier was reported in December 2012 when six elephants were killed after hit by a speeding express train in Ganjam district. In April this year, four elephants were hit by a speeding train in Jharsuguda district.
What statistics say
Data from the environment ministry shows that 655 elephant deaths took place in India from 2009 to 2017. The statistics provided by the same department brings out that during the last six years (2011-12 to 2016-17), 435 elephants have died in the State. So on an average every year, 73 elephants are dying.
Out of total death of 435 elephants, deaths due to diseases (125), natural process (65) and unknown reasons (85) altogether account for 275 elephants over six years. These deaths are due to reasons that the Forest department did not have much control over. But, during this period, 51 elephants have died due to different accidents, two for road accidents, 15 due to train accidents, and 56, the highest number, due to electrocution.
These add up to 124, a whopping 28 per cent of the total elephant casualties in the State, which took place due to accidents that could have been prevented with better management and coordination. Other than these, 28 elephants have fallen to the bullet of the hunters and 8 have been poisoned. Here too the responsibility squarely comes to the Forest department.
Odisha accounting for 90 out of nearly 460 electrocution deaths across the country since 2010, the state merits the status of India's "elephant graveyard". At 106, Karnataka recorded more deaths, but Karnataka's jumbo population (6,049) is over thrice that of Odisha (1,976), as per the Centre's 2017 census. The rate of elephant deaths which was 32 per year during 1990-2003, increased to 56 per year during 2003-2008 in the state.
Maneka Gandhi raises concern
Expressing her ‘grief and horror' at the elephant deaths in Odisha, Union Minister of Women & Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, has urged Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to take urgent measures to stop elephant deaths in Odisha.
"The recent electrocution of seven tuskers in Dhenkanal, which is the highest such death toll in a single incident, has caused furore throughout the nation about the reprehensible state of elephant protection in Odisha," Maneka wrote.
"It comes at the back of dismal statistics wherein 124 or a whopping 28 per cent casualties have taken place due to accidents and electrocution. It is tragic to note that a dozen magnificent pachyderms are dying every year due to mismanagement and incoordination between government agencies," Maneka added.
Power supply cut
The Energy Department on Friday asked Central Electricity Supply Utility (CESU) to shut down power in the elephant corridors and forest areas across State during movement of jumbos or any other wildlife. The direction came a day after Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked the Department to take adequate measures by November end to curb electrocution deaths of elephants and other wildlife in the forest areas.
As per Rule 58 of the Central Electricity Authority's Regulations 2010, no overhead line, should be at a height less than 4.6 metres for lines up to 11,000 volts. The height of an Indian elephant is 2.40-2.75 metres (at the shoulder) and adherence to the regulation could have prevented the death of seven elephants.
Where the state failed?
A major reason which has resulted in unabated conflict and death of precious wildlife in Odisha is its political leadership's lack of intent to save the situation.
Had the Ministry and State taken cognisance of the committee report in 2010, many of the electrocution deaths of the past five years could have been avoided. Increasing patrolling during the harvest season, strengthening and maintaining a minimal ground-clearance level for power lines, fitting spikes on to electric poles, removing defunct solar fencing, directing electric companies to fix circuit breakers, providing compensation for crop depredation by wild elephants and prosecuting farmers who install illegal electric fences, were some of the simple steps that should have been immediately taken.
The tragic, anguished deaths of these elephants, a species hailed as India's National Heritage Animal, must urgently be addressed. Odisha's wild elephants need security from at least electrocution, if not from the many other difficulties that assail their kind.