Farmers and agricultural traders from Thadagam and Thondamuthur in Coimbatore have written to the District Collector seeking a solution to wild elephants entering their fields and damaging their crops. In their petition, they have requested district authorities to either translocate the elephants or tranquilise them and trap them in order to prevent the animals from entering the fields.
"We had already written a letter in detail on November 19 to the Collector regarding the problems faced by the farmers in that region due to the elephants. Till date, no action has been taken on the matter. We urge the concerned authorities to act on a war-footing to address the situation, failing which we will lay siege on the office of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Chennai on December 17," said P Kandasamy, the State General Secretary of the Farmers Association to TNM.
The issues caused by elephants in villages in Thadagam and Thondamuthur areas in Coimbatore is a longstanding one. There have been news reports about elephants straying from reserve forests into the residential areas near the forests and also of elephants scaring the drivers in the hilly areas in the district. Four elephants – two lone males and a mother-calf duo – have been in the news for attacking humans and also venturing into the agricultural lands in the district.
Despite repeated complaints and petitions from the farmers and landowners, no action has been taken to address this, alleged the farmers.
"When we ask them to get permission from the wildlife warden to shoot the elephants, it does not mean we will kill those elephants. The permission is just a precautionary measure," Kandasamy said.
However, the district authorities are exploring options to solve the problem without having to kill the animals.
Speaking to TNM about the petition, Deepak Srivatsa, the Chief Conservator of Forests said that it is a complicated process and that it is not good to decide things in haste. "We will try bringing kumki elephants and deploy them in the regions where such issues are being reported and observe how that solves the issue. We will observe the effectiveness of this for 3-4 days. It is not right to take hasty decisions on the matter since we will not be able to justify those decisions," he said.
Adding that he and the Forest Department are concerned about the farmers, their lives and property, he also said that full assistance will be provided to the farmers on this issue.
"I have requested a time of seven days from the Collector to take a final decision. We need to get doctors and activists on board to discuss various options. All the possible options will be considered before taking a decision," he told TNM.
The District Collector Hariharan has also called for a stakeholder meeting on Sunday to discuss the issue and zero in on the possible solutions to tackle the menace.
However, activists in the district expressed their concern on the issues put forth by the farmers’ association and called for a balanced approach to tackle the problem.
"Look there is no human-animal conflict anywhere ever. If you observe all the instances of such conflicts, you can see that it is the human beings who have encroached upon natural routes of these animals," said environment and wildlife activist Vanam Chandrasekhar, who runs the Vanam Trust in Coimbatore.
"Animals don't attack us unless their existence is threatened. That should be enough of a clue. These farmers who are complaining go on to cultivate crops that attract animals. We have told them a lot of times to avoid cultivating crops like sugarcane, banana etc and start growing ginger, turmeric and the likes. There are scientific studies that prove this point. Tasty crops will invite animals to savour them. That is their nature. How can anyone change the nature of animals?" he asked.
He also added that a careful study must be conducted and all factors must be fully considered before acting on complaints of such nature. There have been scientific papers published on the crops which can be cultivated in the place of the attractive crops, thereby preventing the infiltration of elephants into farmlands, he states.
Parthiban Rajan, an activist working for Western Ghats Wildlife Conservation Trust recommends putting strong physical barriers in place to prevent infiltration of elephants in the area.
"Killing or translocating the animals will never solve the problem fully. They are just temporary measures. Instead, we must focus on barriers such that elephants know that the area is forbidden," he told TNM.
Muruganandham, President of the Coimbatore Wildlife Conservation Trust said that NGOs that support wildlife are not against farmers.
"We are not their enemies. We are just against killing animals for this purpose. All that we are saying is the farmers must do everything possible to protect their lands and produce from animals. Killing is not an option. I don't deny that human life is priceless. But the value of elephant is also equally high since elephants are an endangered species," he said.