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Mitigating Man-Elephant Confrontation

in the Bannerghatta National Park Area

Institute for Natural Resources Conservation, Education, Research and Training
No. 10, Sirur Park, B Street, Seshadripuram, Bangalore - 560 020.

Ph. : 3364142, 3364682 E-mail : navbarat@blr.vsnl.net.in

Report by INCERT Investigation team

S. Sridhar Dr. G. Venkatesh Paresh U. Karmarkar

V. Sudheendra S. Shreyas K.B. Prakash

Incert has been studying the man-elephant confrontation in and the Bannerghatta national Park area since the mid-nineties. Many press releases were issued from time to time. Some of the press releases are reproduced here. The dates/months of the respective press releases are alos given for your reference.

About Asian Elephants

The Elephant has been an integral part of our history, mythology, religion and culture. Since times immemorial, eloquent references are made in a number of ancient literatures of the subcontinent. Elephants have been embellished in rock carvings of Pallavas and Hoysalas. The imperial elephant stables of Emperor Akbar are believed to have housed 32,000 pachyderms. Their number during his son Jahangirs realm is said to have gone up to as much as 1,30,000!

The Asian elephants are presently spread over 13 countries. In terms of numbers - the existing population is between 34,000 to 54,000 and is declining alarmingly. The entire Asian elephant population is less than 10% of its African counterpart.

Reasons for decline include fragmentation and loss of habitats, isolation of groups, rampant poaching for ivory, man-elephant conflict and consequent death by electrocution or shooting by farmers.

Ratio of male to female elephant has reached an alarming 1:100 in some areas. Tuskers in their prime age are becoming fewer and fewer, since they are selectively targeted by the poachers. This is contributing to the deterioration in the quality of gene pool. Tamed elephants numbering around 2,500 rarely breed in captivity; a colossal waste of gene pool indeed.

The Study

Deeply disturbed at the continuing and alarming decline of elephants in India in general and the escalating man-elephant confrontation at the Bannerghatta National Park area in particular, INCERT has taken up field studies to identify the problems facing the elephants at the Bannerghatta National Park area and find suitable solutions.

Some facts about Bannerghatta National Park

Notified as a National Park vide Notification no AFD 61 FWL 74 dated 6/9/74.

Area 104. 27 Sq. Kms.

Mean Annual Rainfall 700 mm

Forest Types:

1) Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous Forest (5A) 8,427 ha

2) Southern Thorn Forests (6A/C1) 1,500 ha

3) South Indian Moist Deciduous Forests (3B) 500 ha

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Total :- 104.27 Sq.Kms or 10,427 ha

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Water Resources: There are 35 man-made tanks. (20 are perennial).

Human Presence:

There are six villages inside the park area with a population of about 2,200.

There are 236 villages in the surrounding areas with a total population of 47,200

Grazing : Illegal grazing by approximately 7,500 heads of cattle, goat and sheep from the adjacent villages is a permanent feature. This is in violation of the Wild Life ( Preservation) Act of 1972.

Quarrying and Mining Activities : There are more than 40 illegal quarries in and around the BNP, in violation of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. Any mining or quarrying activity within 25 km of the boundary of a National Park is banned under this act.

Elephant Census : There were 56 elephants according to a census conducted by the forest dept. in 1993. Method used for the census was Stratified sample counts of unequal sized units.

Personnel : The BNP has one ACF, five RFOs, four Foresters, One Asst. Vet. Surgeon, One Second Div. Asst., ten Guards, four watchers, four drivers, two Kavadis, 27 consolidated salary workers and 25 watchmen and two peons.

(Note: 23 consolidated salary workers have been relieved of their duties four months ago due to lack of funds (Order No. EST (1) CR : D:N:52:97-98 dated 14.2.2000).

Equipment : Two fixed wireless sets, eleven walkie-talkie, four guns, one jeep and seven other vehicles (for safari) (most of the equipment are out of order and not in use at present).

Present Elephant Conservation Problems:-

1) BNP is like a vertically expanded amoeba with too many arms and sharply arching boundaries (see map).

2) Over 15 natural streams criss-cross the BNP borders at many places.

3) Most of the bordering areas have been encroached by farmers and boundary disputes are not easy to settle due to some survey numbers having lands which are more than 500 acres in extent; partly owned by the Govt and partly owned by farmers and quarry owners. The boundaries are loosely described and manipulated in the existing documents.

4) Naturally growing bamboos are the staple food for the elephants. They have been extensively cut and removed in recent years. The forest vegetation now comprises lantana, parthenium, prosopis, ziziphus sp and other vegetation not preferred by the elephants.

5) Over 7,500 heads of cattle, goat and sheep are daily brought by the villages of the 236 surrounding villages. They directly compete with the elephants for food.

6) The farmers grow crops such as paddy, ragi, sugarcane, coconut, papaya and horse-gram which attract the attention of the elephants.

7) Forest fires are rampant during summer and the present staff strength is inadequate to deal with this problem. A forest fire was fanning the areas around the Doddaragalli betta during March-April 2000.

8) More than 40 quarries are in operation in and around the BNP. The blasting activities are detrimental to the welfare of the elephants.

9) Illicit country made liquors are being manufactured in many places inside the National Park. There are a few instances of wild elephants drinking this killer brew and getting intoxicated. The death of an young elephant last year, is attributed to this.

Plans of the Forest Department :

1) Digging elephant proof trenches:- The department has dug elephant proof trenches along the borders of the BNP. In most cases the trenches have been filled up by the villagers for taking the cattle, goats and sheep regularly into the BNP for grazing. The elephants are using the same filled up areas for coming out of the forests to feed on the crops of the surrounding agricultural fields.

2) Fixing used railway tracks as a strong barricade: The Department is also planning to fix used railway tracks all along the boundaries of the BNP to effectively control the elephants from coming out of the forest. This is also not feasible. In the first place boundary disputes are yet to be settled. Fixing the railing across the 15 or so natural streams is not an easy task. The BNP is like an expanded amoeba with too many arms and sharply arching boundaries (see map). Many roads are being utilised by the villagers of the six villages which are inside the forest and the quarry operators are also using these roads to bring in their lorries. In the absence of effective vigilance the railings will be prone to plunder by anti social elements.

Supreme Court Directions given a quietus?

The Supreme Court had ordered that sufficient budgetary provisions be made for preservation of biodiversity and protection of wildlife. They had also ordered that the forest guards in the Sanctuaries and National Parks are provided modern arms/communication facilities viz wireless sets and other necessary equipment in that regard. Necessary steps for that purpose ought to have been taken within six months.

On the contrary and in violation of the Supreme Courts directive, the Forest department has relieved 23 employees of the Bannerghatta National Park, last month due to lack of funds. Inspite of the clear direction of the Apex Court in August 1997, to provide modern arms/communication facilities viz wireless sets and other necessary equipment to the forest guards, no effort has been made to provide the essential gadgets even after a lapse of two and half years.

The Supreme Court, in December 1996 had directed cessation of all non-forest activities in all the forests. But inspite of public outcry and media debate, several illegal quarries are operating in and around the Bannerghatta National Park. No sincere effort has been made by the authorities to curb these illegal activities even after a lapse of three and half years from the date of the Supreme Court Order.

The Supreme Court had directed the State Govt. not to remove any trees, grasses, etc. However large scale removal of bamboo clumps from BNP has resulted in the ecological deprivation of the staple food for the wild elephants in BNP.

The above directions of the Supreme Court are very clear and the State Govt ought to have implemented the orders of the Apex court in right earnest in letter and spirit.

However, there is no evidence of tangible or discernible steps taken by the State Govt to implement the Supreme Court orders till date.

We have time and again represented to the forest authorities about these issues and appealed to them to take a comprehensive and pragmatic field-oriented measures to tackle the situation with a very firm hand. But unfortunately the authorities continue to be casual, indifferent and uninterested in adopting suitable and effective remedies.

Already extinct in five states in India

If no solution is found quickly enough there may not be any need to look for solutions, since the present causative factors are themselves enough to annihilate the last herd of pachyderms from the Bannerghatta National Park in the near future. It is no alarmist view but a sober and real assessment of the situation which calls for dramatic measures to preserve this species. In less than hundred years elephants have become extinct in Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh on account of similar causative factors remaining un-mitigated.

Dr. Martin Luther King had once said "The ultimate measure of persons is not where they stand at times of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy." Here is a good opportunity to exhibit our resolute commitment to save the wild elephants of Bannerghatta amidst stiff challenges and controversies.

Wild animals Being Purged
from the Bannerghatta National Park

 

INCERT Investigative Report Dated 29th September 2001

By V. Sudhiendra and S. Sridhar

 

The forest department has done it again! Amid squeals of protests from environmentalists and the villagers alike, the department has gone ahead with the construction spree. Recently it built a large enclosure to house the confiscated circus lions and tigers. Presently they have almost completed a Bear enclosure, a Tiger enclosure and tourist cottages inside the Bannerghatta National Park. All the above constructions have been put up in clear violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, Forest (Conservation) Act and directions of the Supreme Court issued recently.

 

During September 2000 INCERT had furnished photographic evidence of bulldozing of fifty acres of prime wild elephant habitat inside the Bannerghatta National Park, to facilitate a new bear enclosure. INCERT had launched a webiste with 50 photographs <www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/incert.html> depicting the mindless damage to the forest in the Kenchebayalu area of Ragalli beat inside the Bannerghatta National Park.

Violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act

 

After the newspaper reports, the department ceased the activities for a few months, but started the bulldozing and construction activities afresh in recent months. The activities included removal of trees and shrubs using bulldozers and JCB, digging trenches by dynamiting, putting up stone slab barricades around the bear enclosure, construction of 1.4 km long road from the Hakkipikki colony by removing the tree cover etc., and were taken up in full swing. The constructions are nearing completion at present. All these activities are prohibited under the following sections of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

 

Section 35 (6) reads as follows:- "No person shall destroy, exploit or remove any wildlife from a National Perk or destroy or damage the habitat of any wild animal or deprive any wild animal of its habitat within such National Park except under and in accordance with a permit granted by the Chief Wildlife Warden and no such permit shall be granted unless the State Government, being satisfied that such destruction, exploitation or removal of wildlife from the National Park is necessary for the improvement and better management of wildlife therein, authorizes issue of such permit.

Bulldozing and removal of trees and construction of cages inside the National Park can under no stretch of imagination be termed as for improvement and better management of wildlife therein, these activities can certainly be termed as contravention of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

The elephant herds especially the herds with young calves, will certainly panic and tend to stray to neighboring forests and agricultural fields, on account of the continuous roaring of around 150 lions and tigers, to be housed in the cages presently being constructed in the bulldozed area.

 

The enclosures are meant for housing bears confiscated from road side performers from all over India and circus tigers being procured from Europe. The animals thus brought from elsewhere cannot be termed as "Wildlife therein". Moreover they will be held under captive conditions which in itself is violative of Section 9 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, which specifically mentions that "No person shall hunt [Sec. 1 (16) capture, kill, poison, snare, trap or attempt to do so]".

 

Also the Wildlife (Protection) Act has defined [Sec 1 (5)] that captive animals include animals captured or bred in captivity. Bears and tigers being kept in enclosures are captive animals as defined under the Act and are not "Wildlife therein". The wildlife therein comprise free roaming wild elephants, jackals, leopards etc., all of which were deprived of their natural habitat by removal of trees and construction activities, which are violative of the Wildlife (Protection) Act as explained above.

In addition, Section 32 of Wildlife (Protection) Act has banned use of injurious substances : No person shall use, in a National Park or a sanctuary, chemicals, explosives or any other substances which may cause injury or endanger any wildlife in the National park or Sanctuary. But explosives and dynamites were used freely and copiously, to blast rocks during trench digging operations inside the National Park.(see Photos). This is also a clear violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

Violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act.

Sec 2 (ii), (iii) and (iv) have clearly banned all non forest activities and clearing of trees which have grown naturally in any forest, without the prior approval of the Central Government.

Violation of the directions of the Supreme Court

 

The Supreme Court has also imposed an absolute embargo on the removal of even dead and wind-fallen trees etc. from any National Park or Sanctuary in its order dated 14th Feb 2000.

The Solicitor General of India Shri Harish N Salve had written to the Addl IGF (Wildlife) Ministry of Environment and Forest on 18th July 2000 as follows:-

"...Section 29 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act prohibits absolutely the grant of permission "by the State Government or the Chief wildlife Warden, for any activity which damages the habitat of any wild animal within such sanctuary unless such activity is necessary for the better management of the wildlife itself. A similar prohibition in relation to national park is provided under section 35(6)..."

".. In any event the Supreme Court has also imposed an absolute embargo on the removal of even dead and wind-fallen trees etc. from any National park or Sanctuary in its order dated 14th Feb 2000."

"... I would suggest that whenever a permission is sought, you may ask the applicant to first seek clearance of the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court directs the grant of any such permission even clears the grant of any such permission then the matter can be considered. This may be the course of prudence to be adopted in this matter", the Solicitor General had observed in his letter.

But to everyones anguish no such course was taken before bulldozing the trees and constructing the buildings inside the Bannerghatta National Park The Forest Department has shown chronic reluctance to adhere to the legal framework and the Supreme Court directions.

 

They have purged the Bannerghatta National park of its wild animals, which is evidenced by the death of a dozen elephants between Jan-and May 2001, the death of atleast two villagers due to trampling by the wild elephants and the increasing instances of crop raiding by the elephants, which were forced to come out of the Bannerghatta National Park.

Man-elephant conflict escalation Imminent?

 

At present INCERT investigation team is following the movements of two tuskers and two female elephants which are currently residing close to the bulldozed area and shivering in their death throes, as the electrified fences around the agricultural fields are ready to take a toll of these pachyderms. Environmentalists have every reason to believe that such non forest activities have radically diminished the native wildlife in the Bannerghatta National Park area.

Tender Norms Flouted?

 

It is reliably learnt that around Rs 2 crores were spent by the department towards bulldozing and construction of the enclosures. The funds were procured from various funding agencies from India and abroad. Discreet enquires revealed that tenders were not called for this project but entrusted to a private contractor by flouting all tender procedures.

We are pleased to inform you that INCERT had created the following websites,
having photos and other information on the bulldozing activities which took place in the Bannerghatta National Park, during September 2000, but the authorities had ceased the operations after pressure from environmentalists, but began the construction activites in August 2001.

Please visit these websites created during September 2000:

1. www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/bannerghatta1.html

2.www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/bannerghatta2.html

3.www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/incert.html

4.www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/incert1.html

5.www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/incert2.html

6.www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/incert3.html

7www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/incert4.html

8.www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/incert5.html

9.www.geocities.com/incertenvironment/incert6.html

Forest Department begins
an operation to capture wild elephants in
the Bannerghatta National Park

INCERT Field Report dated Saturday the 29th June 2002,
by S. Sridhar and S. Shreyas


Institute for Natural Resources Conservation, Education, Research & Training (INCERT)

No. 10, Sirur Park, B Street, Seshadripuram, Bangalore - 560 020 Ph. 3364142, 3364682, 3362927

 

Early this week the Forest Department requisitioned the services of seven tamed elephants from the various elephant camps of the state to the Bannergatta National Park, in order to capture four wild tuskers, which are creating a havoc in the national park and the adjacent villages.

According to the officials these four wild elephants which have been identified, are presently running amuck, and have killed some villagers in recent months and creating panic among the villagers in the neighborhood of Talaghattapura and Anekal.

Today, the National Park officials were seen running around with excitement and were putting their equipment together to capture the wild elephants. They were feverishly checking and rechecking their armaments and tapping their wireless sets to learn more about the movements of the rouge elephants in the Soppina Kunte and Chikkahosalli areas.

Tamed elephants deployed for the capture

Tamed elephant Arjuna ( 45 years), from the Balle camp, Srirama (50 years) from the Titmatti camp, Abimanyu (39 years) from the Moorkal Camp, Harsha (35 years ) from the Dhubare camp, New Tusker (65 years) from the Sakkare Bayalu camp have all ready arrived at the national park and are being taken out to track down the troublesome wild elephants. Cow elephants Gayathri (40 years) and Lily( 45 years) have also arrived and they are expected to entice the wild elephants to a chosen spot and thereby ensuring easy tranquillization, capture and translocation of the wild elephants.

Dr. Chittiappa, an expert elephant capturer, was seen demonstrating the correct method of tying the knot around the neck of the captured elephant, as soon as it is tranquillized.

The operation to locate the fugitive wild elephants has already begun and the tranquillizing, capturing and translocation is expected to take place any time now.

Bannerghatta Elephants viz., Vanaraja, Vanitha, Veda and Swarna are not being deployed for this operation.

Innocent Elephant Dies : Victim of a tragic operation
in the Bannerghatta National Park

INCERT Report dated Monday the 1st July 2002,
by S. Sridhar, S. Shreyas and N. Manjunath


Institute for Natural Resources Conservation, Education, Research & Training (INCERT)

No. 10, Sirur Park, B Street, Seshadripuram, Bangalore - 560 020 Ph. 3364142, 3364682, 3362927

 

Further to INCERT Field Report dated 29th June 2002, We regret to announce the tragic death of an innocent wild tusker in an operation to capture and translocate wild elephants from the Bannerghatta National Park, on Sunday the 30th June 2002

The Mistaken Identity

The officials were targeting a tusker, which had allegedly killed two people in recent weeks, near the Talghattapura, on the outskirts of the Bannerghatta National Park. On Saturday, three separate groups of forest watchers were sent to different parts of the park to locate the rogue elephant and this individual was noticed among a herd of four elephants, near the Soppinakunte area. On Sunday morning, a herd of three elephants were noticed at the Mettubande area of the Park, by the darting team. The group that was familiar with the rogue elephant was not in the vicinity, therefore they asked over the wireless set to give the description of the rogue elephant. Based on the description given over the wireless set, the tranquilizing party darted the innocent elephant which they thought fitted the description of the rogue elephant, and the rest is a history.

 

How did the elephant die?

The seven tamed elephants viz Arjuna, Abimanyu, Sri Rama, Harsha, New Tusker, Gayathri, and Lily, were brought to Segekatte area on Sunday morning and the search for the rogue elephant began at 7.30 am. Officials went to Metubande area in their respective vehicles. Forest watchers informed the officials over the wireless about the movement of the herd at the Metubande area. The darting team headed by Dr. Chittiappa and Dr. Nagaraj of Hunsur, who were supposedly seated on the tamed elephant Arjuna, arrived at the spot and saw three wild elephants. The herd included a 22 year old large tusker, a 18 year old medium sized tusker and another 13 year old smaller tusker. The darting team asked for the description of the rogue elephant, which was the 22 year old larger tusker, over the wireless set and the party that was familiar with the rogue elephant gave the description over the wireless set. But the darting team mistook the 18 year old innocent tusker to the 22 year old rouge tusker and the tranquilizer gun was fired at the innocent tusker at 11.15 A.M.

On hearing the gunshot, two accompanying wild elephants panicked and started running, and the elephant that had received the dart also started running with them. After running about a kilometer, the herd came across a ditch measuring five feet deep and three feet wide, near the Aladamara Cross, adjacent to the Safari Road. Whilst the two elephants crossed over the ditch with ease, the darted elephant which was slowly losing its consciousness fell into the ditch and could not climb out.

The search operations were hampered by the presence of several thick bushes. Some watchers had seen the two wild elephants lurking behind these bushes and the search operations were further hampered. By the time the team spotted the darted elephant lying in the ditch at 12.15 P.M., it was too late. The officials pronounced it dead at 12.45 P.M.

 

The team had no idea about the terrain and the herd movement.

Many villagers who were present at the spot, felt that a wrong area had been selected for the operation. They said that the team ought to have waited for the elephants to move over to Suvarnamuki area which is flat and easy to track down the elephant after the darting. Much of the panic and confusion was due to the many contradicting orders given over the wireless to the search teams.

It is also learnt that the dosage ( 3 ml ) was prepared by Dr. Basavaraj, which was meant for the larger 22 year old rogue tusker. But the innocent tusker that received the dart, was only 18 years old and much smaller and perhaps there was an over dosage.

Many individuals who were present at the spot were of the opinion that the elephant capturing team that had arrived from various localities of the state, had no idea of the terrain of the National Park and the general movements of the herd. The official in charge of the National Park should have briefed the capturing team with maps and explained the herds routine movements to them, in detail. But no such briefings were held and this resulted in darting the wrong elephant, at the wrong time and the wrong place, the villagers felt.

 

National Park - A Cauldron for the wild elephants?

It is a paradox that a the elephants which are supposed to be given the maximum protection inside the National Parks, should be subjected to such cruel and brutal ordeals. The Bannerghatta National Park gained the notoriety as an abattoir for elephants, when a dozen elephants were eliminated in a short span of six months in 2000. It has become a cauldron for the wild elephants. Vast areas of the National Park were cleared in recent months to accommodate lions, tigers and bears that were confiscated from circuses etc. A dozen buses transect the National Park throughout the day, taking tourists to the lion and tiger safaris. About 7000 heads of cattle, goats, and sheep compete directly with the elephants for fodder inside the National Park, in violation of the Wildlife Protection Act. About 40 active quarries are indulging in blasting activities, despite a Supreme Court directive to cease the quarrying operation, in and around the National Park.

The Department has been recently sanctioned a sum of Rupees Six lakhs to capture four troublesome wild elephants from the park and shift them to safer places, or train and retain them for their services. One has already gone; three more ready to go?