Express news service
September 26: The couple Justin and Jini are on motorcycles heading to church for the morning service when they are attacked by a savage defender at Vallithodu Peringiri in Kannur, about 10 km from the forest border. Justin dies instantly. Jini is rushed to hospital. His condition remains critical.
September 23: The couple Viji and Kumar return from Tamil Nadu after visiting relatives. A wild elephant attacks the couple on a motorbike in Poopara near the Anayirankal dam in Idukki. Viji, 35, was seriously injured and died instantly. Kumar comes out with minor injuries.
August 30: It is around 4 a.m. Rubber tappers Sainudeen, 50, and Peethambaran, 56, are on their way to a rubber plantation for work when a defender attacks them at Palappilly in Thrissur. Both die. Human-elephant conflicts are on the rise in Kerala as forest fragmentation, habitat shrinkage and the appearance of colonies on elephant corridors force wild jumbos to stray into human habitats.
Almost 140 people have lost their lives in human-wild elephant conflicts in Kerala over the past seven years. Of these, 14 have died in the past nine months. The rise of conflicts has sparked protests from forest residents who want concrete measures to be taken to save their lives and property.
“Elephant attacks have increased. We have lost 14 lives this year. The forestry department should introduce scientific measures to prevent wild animals from entering human habitats,” said the president of the Farmers’ Association. independent from Kerala, Alex Ozhukayil.
Dr PS Easa, an expert in elephant conservation, says the use of “wild elephant attack” is wrong. “Most of these incidents are accidents and occur at night or early in the morning. Elephants enter human settlements in search of food and water and are attracted to the cultivation of rice, bananas, pineapples and jackfruit on the edges of forests. We cannot deprive wild animals of their rights. We should learn to coexist, ”Easa said.
Farmers erect electric fences, use spikes, beat drums, pop crackers, and hunt and even throw fireballs to chase herds of elephants. While they do work, the tactics could present an agonizing spectacle as seen on September 20.
A herd of 16 wild elephants, including calves, which had entered IIT-Palakkad was almost tortured by a hostile crowd. The panicked jumbos were seen running haphazardly. The adult elephants eventually banded together to protect the calves. The jumbos had entered the campus from Walayar Forest through a breach in the solar fence and panicked when they could not find a way back to nature.
The state has eight elephant corridors, but the movement of wild jumbos has been interrupted by settlements and plantations. The increase in human activity along the corridors leads to human-elephant conflicts. The corridors and their lengths are:
Tirunelli-Kudrakote (6 km)
The corridor, crossing the forest division of Wayanad North, connects the Brahmagiri hills in Karnataka to the Coorg plateau. The 6 km long corridor in the forest of the Tirunelli reserve is 1-1.5 km wide and is important for maintaining habitat contiguity.
The road to the Mananthavady-Tirunelli temple cuts the corridor and interrupts the movement of the elephants. There were five villages along the corridor four of which were relocated by the Wildlife Trust of India with assistance from the Forestry Department in 2015. Almost 25.4 acres of land were purchased from 37 families to restore the corridor.
Kottiyur-Periya (3 km)
The corridor runs from Periya in Wayanad North Division to Kottiyur in Kannur Forest Division and facilitates the movement of elephants to the Brahmagiri Hills. The village of Boys Town, the plantations and the Palchuram-Mananthavadi road obstruct the corridor, which is 3 km long, but only 0.15 km wide. Solar fences erected by the plantations and the forest service hamper the movement of the jumbos.
Periya-Pakranthalam (0.5 km)
This connects the forests of Periya to the north and south. Elephants from North Wayanad Forest Division move to Kozhikode Forest Division through this 0.5 km long and 0.3 km wide corridor. The Mananthavady-Kuttiadi Ghat road cuts the corridor forcing elephants through farmland, resulting in destruction of crops and causing conflict with humans.
Nilambur-Appankapu (0.4 km)
The corridor connects the Nilambur and Vazhikadavu Ranges of the North Nilambur Forest Division and is used by elephants to travel from the South Wayanad Division to Gudalur Forests in Tamil Nadu. The length and width of the corridor is 0.4. Rubber plantations in Appankappu and a settlement with 132 households obstruct it.
Nilambur Kovilakom – New Amarambalam (1 km)
It connects the Nilambur Kovilakom and New Amarambalam reserve forests. The Jumbos use the 1 km long and 0.4 km wide corridor to reach the Nilgiri Biosphere, Silent Valley and Mukurthi National Park. The Gudalur-Nilambur road crosses it and elephants cannot cross the road due to its steep slope.
Nilambur-Mudumalai (35 km)
Located on the border between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the corridor connects the forestry division of Nilgiri North to Gudalur and Mudumalai.
Elephants move from Nilambur to Mudumalai and Bandipur through the 35 km long corridor. However, it is narrow, only 0.1 km wide, and there are 26 settlements, tea, coffee, clove and cardamom plantations along the corridor. The NH67, connecting Ooty and Bengaluru, crosses it.
Vazhachal-Anamalai (13 km)
Passing through Sholayar and connecting Valparai in Anamalai Tiger Reserve to Malayattoor Forests in Kerala, the corridor is used by jumbos from Malayattoor and Vazhachal Divisions to travel to Anamalai Forest. The corridor, 13 km long and 1.5 km wide, has several villages and tea and coffee plantations along the way.
Vazhachal-Anamalai via Ryan (6 km)
The corridor connects Valparai with the forestry division of Malayattoor. Elephants from the forests of Malayattoor and Vazhachal travel to Anamalai through the Ryan division owned by the Tamil Nadu Tea Plantation Corporation. It is 6 km long and 1 km wide.
Palakkad-Kovai railway line: Death row for jumbos
The railway line from Palakkad to Coimbatore and through Walayar Forest is a death row for jumbos, with 16 elephants dead on the stretch after being struck by trains between 2002 and 2020.
Most of the accidents occurred on Line B which passes through Kanjikode, Walayar, Ettimadai and Madukkarai. The embankments on either side of the tracks are steep and elephants are trapped on the tracks. Six elephants died within 20 days in 2016 after being struck by trains between Kanjkode and Ettimadai.
Although a few elephants injured in such accidents also died later, they were not included in the official toll. Elephant lovers claim that around 30 elephants died during the period. The Southern Railway recently told the National Green Tribunal that it had limited train speeds on the Kanjikode-Madukkarai section to 45 km / h from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
He said signs have been installed to warn drivers and solar fences have been installed for 7.1 km along line B and 3.2 km along line A. Ramps have also been erected. in some places to allow elephants to pass without getting trapped.
Giant deaths: In addition to being struck by trains, elephants have died across the state after coming into contact with traps set by humans to hunt wildlife. In 2020, a 10-foot-tall tusker was electrocuted in Kanjikode. In addition, the death of a pregnant wild elephant after eating a cracker-stuffed fruit in 2020 in Velliyar had drawn national attention.
Harvest raid for the first time in 40 years
For the first time in 40 years, the regions of Malayangad and Poovathamkandiyil in the Vanimel panchayat of Kozhikode district have been victims of repeated crop looting by elephants. “A herd of wild elephants attacked our crops five times in the past month, destroying rubber, coconut and mahogany trees,” said Ranjith Elukkunnel, a teacher. The high-end area is close to the Kannavam reserve forest in Kannur district.
Jumbos roam freely in Munnar
Herds of wild elephants have been observed roaming around Munnar, Chinnakkanal, Pooppara and Nedumkandam causing loss of life and property. Besides Viji, who was killed on September 23, a 45-year-old woman in Thakkulam near Pooppara was killed by a wild jumbo while working on a plantation on July 21.
A herd also destroyed four houses in the Shoolapparakkudy settlement in August. Wild elephants even blocked traffic on the Adimali-Munnar road in Valara on September 27.
The Forestry Department has proposed to restore the Elephant Corridor passing through Anayirangal in the Devikulam Range of Munnar Forest to connect the Chinnar and Marayur forests to the Periyar Tiger Reserve. The Idukki district collector recently said that encroachments in Anayirangal would be removed.
Most of the families in Colony 301 near Anayirankal had to leave due to frequent elephant raids. The title deeds were distributed in 2002 following a protest by the tribal community across the state for land rights.
“The Wildlife Trust of India has led by example by moving people to four villages and restoring the Tirunelli-Kudrakote corridor. The Kerala Forest Department should also take steps to relocate settlements to other corridors, ”said Sajan Jahas, former project manager, Wildlife Trust. from India.