Currently, I work on a USFWS-sponsored project on Human-elephant Conflict (HEC) issues in Uttarakhand, India. I focus on Mapping the HEC areas in the Shiwalik Elephant corridor in Uttarakhand and working with the communities on HEC mitigation strategies. At the present stage of the work It has been possible to gather significant amount of authentic information about the ground truth of HEC issue and the related problems associated with it across the elephant ranging areas spreading from the north western limit of the elephant range in Dehradun up to the Kilpura-Surai corrodor bordering Nepal in the eastern end of the Uttarakhand state. The problem of HEC in all the forest divisions in the Shivalik
Elephant Corridor not only concentrates in the fringe villages, but also its impact is seen inside many reserves where on many occasions either elephants have killed human beings or humans have killed elephants. The threats to elephant population in Uttarakhand are many but practical conservation efforts to save the elephants are NIL. The impact of habitat fragmentation in several parts of nearly 450 kilometer-long elephant corridor in Uttarakhand is so grave that growing incidences of HEC problem in recent months may give rise to greater community dissension in future over elephant related crop loss, human fatality and property loss unless a strategic plan for a community-friendly HEC mitigation and elephant corridor landscape management is implemented. Some of my critical observations on the HEC as well as elephant conservation issues in Uttarakhand are listed below:
1. In Uttarakhand state, the govt. considers HEC issue as one of the routine human-wiildlife conflicts and is trying to minimize it through a provision of a meagre ex-gratia comensation payment to the identified HEC-affected villagers, and by erecting solar powered electric fence at some locations along the fringes of the reserves. As of today, all these solar powered fencing lines are lying dead except at two locations- at Chhiderwala in Dehradun FD and at Jhilmill Jheel Conservation Unit in Haridwar FD. At Chhiderwala, it functions partially but with high risks of getting damaged unless new batteries are installed while at Jhillmill Jheel Conservation Unit, the fence encloses the Unit office premises.
2. The Solar powered electric fencing, as reported by most HEC affected villagers, could have been a success as an effective elephant detterent to minimize the HEC incidences, had there been proper line of maintainance activities under the care of trained personnel either from the communities or from the forest department staff. But unfortunately this remains to be a neglected part of the solar fencing plan of the govt and at most of my HEC survey sites communities openly accuse the state govt for ignoring the local communities before handing over the solar fencing responsibility to one solar fencing manufacturing company from Banglore. There is still a tussle between the forest department and local communities over the solar fencing mismanagement issue
3. Elephant related human deaths are on rise in Uttarakhand. During my current elephant project work, 8 people have been killed by elephants in different parts of the project area.
4. Elephant deaths are also on rise in Uttarakhand. During the last 11 months of this elephant work, we got reports of five tuskers being killed in different parts of the project area.. The major cause of these deaths was HEC related like electricution, poisoning and shooting. From the Govt record, there has been reports of 128 elephant deaths 34 tiger deaths in the last eight years in Uttarakhand.As many as, 20 elephants have been killed in the last eight years only in the Haridwar Forest Division. The Six-Kilometer long busy express highway in the Chilla-Motichur elephant corridor has been a major fragmented site blocking seasonal migration of the elephants. I believe this is one major reason why elephants from the Haridwar FD remain round the year at one or two locations, mainly in the Shympur range increasing chances of more HEC related incidences.
6. There was no elephant awareness programme by any agency in any village among any people in the whole elephant range areas in Uttarakhand. Through the current FWS sposored elephant project it was possible for the first time to reach nearly all villages in the HEC range areas with elephant conservation and HEC mitigation messages for the communities. HEC affected villagers appreciate the initiatives taken under the current elephant project to educate the villagers about the elephants and their conservation
issue in Uttarakhand and other habitats in Asia.
7. The communities strongly need a lasting solution to the growing HEC problems. They show interest to get involved in the HEC mitigation strategy, through a coordinated community-based training programme for capacity building, sustainable livilihood, and crop protection measures.
8. Grassroots level forest staffs (rangers, foresters and forest foresters) demand for a regular training on sensitive issues focusing on elephant conservation, elephant coridor landscape management, HEC mitigation. These staff need to strenghtened through elephant conservation stewardship and capacity building training in the field situation to handle the challenging field work in the elephant habitat.