The Kerala Forest Department has announced to set up a wild elephant sanctuary in Anayirankal-Chinnakkanal area near Munnar in Kerala. With this, the department hopes to address two problems that have been a cause of concern in Idukki district for years: Protect the stranded wild elephants in Anayirankal and prevent man-animal conflicts in Munnar.
The Chief Wildlife Warden, Surendrakumar, has sought a detailed project report from Munnar Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) on the proposed sanctuary as well as on the wild elephant-related issues in Chinnnakkanal and Anayirankal.
“The proposed sanctuary will be set up on a land of 6 square kilometres, which stretches across areas such as Anayirankal-Chinnakkanal, 301 Colony, 80 Acre and ST Colony in Idukki. A few families residing in 301 Colony and ST Colony will be relocated,” a Forest Department official told TNM.
Over 386 hectares of forest land in the Anayirankal area is used by the Hindustan Newsprint Limited (HNL). This will be used for the proposed project, in addition to 290 hectares of forest land, said the Forest department official.
“If the sanctuary becomes a reality, it will provide a natural habitat for the wild elephants. It will ensure their smooth movement and food security,” said the official.
Why human-elephant conflict needs to be addressed
In 2002-2003, former AK Antony-led UDF government in Kerala had allotted human settlements in Sinakukandam, 301 Colony and 80 Acre areas near Munnar. But it blocked the elephant paths and over 38 wild elephants were left stranded in the Anayirnkal dam catchment area. This engendered the tusker menace in Anayirankanl, Munnar, Chinnakanal, Sinkukandam and 301 Colony areas.
Since 2010, wild elephant attacks claimed over 28 lives in the Munnar Wildlife Division. In 2018, four persons were killed in the wild elephant attack. On May 16, 2018, a Moolathara native and cardamom estate watcher, Velu (55), was trampled to death by a wild elephant at Puthuppara near Anayirankal. On July 4, a tribal farmer Thankachen (55) died in a wild elephant attack at Sinkukandam near Anayirankal. On July 11, cardamom estate supervisor Kumar (46) was trampled to death by a wild elephant at Rajappara near Chinnakanal. On September 20, a wild elephant killed cardamom estate watcher Muthayya (65) in Puthuppara. The list goes on.
In November 2018, Munnar DFO Narendra Babu had submitted a detailed proposal to the Chief Wildlife Warden, which said that the government must relocate the families residing in Chinnakanal and Munnar areas to prevent elephant attacks.
Earlier, 301 families had settled in the 301 Colony area. But now, the Colony has only 13 families, while the other families left the area. Last December, the state government had allotted Rs 49.70 crore to relocate the families residing along the forest border areas in the state, with each family receiving Rs 10 lakh as compensation.
However, the relocation process is still under consideration of the Forest Department, Narendra Babu told TNM.
“Habitat destruction is the main reason behind the increasing wild elephant attacks. And so, relocation is the only way to prevent this human-wild elephant conflict in 301 Colony and Sinkukandam areas," said the Forest Department official.
Speaking to TNM, environmentalist MN Jayachandran, who is also a member of Kerala State Animal Welfare Board, said, “This sanctuary will provide a natural habitat not only to the wild elephants but to other wild animals in the region as well. But before the sanctuary comes up, the Forest department must relocate the families in these areas.”