How one decision by the Kerala govt sparked the man-elephant conflict in Munnar

In one fell stroke, AK Antony allowed humans to settle in an elephant corridor. Now, over 35 people are dead and the elephants have nowhere to go.
How one decision by the Kerala govt sparked the man-elephant conflict in Munnar
How one decision by the Kerala govt sparked the man-elephant conflict in Munnar
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Chinnakanal, near Munnar in Kerala’s Idukki district, has at least 28 people dying in the last eight years due to man-animal conflicts. Home to an elephant corridor, houses and plantations have sprung up here, leading to the conflict. The Kerala model of sustainable development, which focuses on conserving wildlife while ensuring development, has unfortunately fallen flat here. Insecurity and fear looms large, and nearly everyone here has a story of a near escape from an elephant on a rampage.

Some time in 2002-2003, the AK Antony-led government decided to sanction human settlement in Sinakukundam. However, Munnar Divisional Forest Officer Prakriti Srivastava had written to the government stating that it was a bad idea to allow human settlement in and around the Anayirankal dam areas. But the government ignored the report and allowed colonies to the established there, now known as 301 colonies.

Between 2001 and 2005, 301 tribal colonies were established near Anayirankal. But 30 wild elephants are isolated in the area, affecting day-to-day life in the villages. Now, only 13 families still live here. The others have left fearing the elephant attacks.

The only solution

“To prevent the wild elephants from attacking these areas, we have to relocate people from 301 colonies and Sinkukandam areas, for this was once an elephant corridor,” says Nibu Kiran, Range Officer, Devikulam.

As per records, over 35 people were killed in the Munnar forest division since 2002. In the last three months alone, wild elephants have claimed the lives of four people, with the latest incident occurring on September 21. In 2017, five people were killed in all by wild elephants.

A wild elephant enters in a tea plantation at Kaannimala top near Munnar

But locals are used to incidents occurring almost every week, and hundreds of people have been injured since the colonies were set up and acres of properties damaged.

Last week, Pottakkal Mary and her neighbour narrowly escaped a rogue tusker; they survived, but Mary’s house was completely damaged. On Monday, nine tea plantation workers escaped by the skin of their teeth as a rogue elephant entered the plantation.

“Most days, we just narrowly escape the elephants. For the last so many years, elephants have been entering our farmlands and destroying our crops. The Forest Department failed to prevent it,” says Thanakappan, a native.

Elephant corridor destroyed

Forest officials admit that the fact the elephant corridor was completely destroyed and the animals lost their habitat was the main reason recurrent attacks were taking place.

"The elephant path connects Chinnar, Munnar, Pondimala, Mattupetty, Chinnakanal, Sinkukandam, Udumbanchola, Adukidantanpara, Chellarkovil Mettu, Mathikettan and ends in Periyar tiger reserve. But when the estate owners have fenced their lands and it blocked the smooth passage of the wild elephants in the area," says former Devikulam Range Officer VK Francis. "Since the elephant path was destroyed, the wild elephants now largely attack the Anayirankal, Chinnakanal and Sinkukandam areas. We have to restore the elephant path to curb the tusker menace in the area.”

Elephants near Chinnakanal.

Last year, Munnar Division Forest Officer S Narendra Babu proposed that the government that the people in Sinkukandam and 301 colonies, but the government has not yet taken any decision on the proposal.

Forest Minister K Raju has also sought a proposal on how the attacks on humans here can be curbed. “That people need to be relocated is included in the proposal. To know there are wild elephants in the area, the roadsides should be cleared of bushes and crops for at least 10 metres,” says Babu.

“Currently, Hindustan Newsprint Limited is holding 500 acres of land, and if it can be turned into grasslands, it will be a boon for elephants. But for this, we need to cut down eucalyptus trees and let grass grow on the terrain. It will assure food security for the elephants,” he elaborates. “There are nearly 30 wild elephants isolated here. We cannot capture all of them and relocate them.”

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