The Telegraph
 
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Jumbo casualty drops in state
- Coordination between govt agencies yield results

Bhubaneswar, June 26: Better coordination between state forest department, railways and the power distribution companies has helped bring down elephant casualties caused by train accidents and electrocution.

Wildlife officials claimed significant decline in casualties, the number having come down from 82 in 2012-13 to 70 in 2013-14.

“The number of elephant deaths in train accidents was 11 in 2012-13. But next year it was just one. No casualties have been reported this year so far,” principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) S.S. Srivastav told The Telegraph.

With a forest cover of 48,903sqkm, almost 32 per cent of its total geographical area, Odisha has been witnessing frequent elephant deaths. In the last five years, 354 jumbos have perished in man-animal conflicts.

Srivastav attributed the scaled down casualties to closer coordination between state forest officials and the railway staff. “Our officials use VHF sets to inform train drivers and guards about the movement of elephants in areas where railway lines pass through forests. This has proved effective in reducing casualties. Earlier, we used to go through stationmasters that delayed the flow of information,” he said.

Elephant casualties turned into a major controversy in 2012-13 when as many as 11 of them were mowed by speeding trains in different parts of the state. This led to a blame game between state forest officials and the railway authorities.

The PCCF (wildlife) also claimed decline in elephant deaths caused by electrocution. The number of such accidents came down from six in 2012-13 to just one in 2013-14. Only one incident was reported last year. The elephants earlier got electrocuted frequently after coming in contact with broken or sagging high voltage electric cables.

Srivastav said the power distribution companies have been asked to raise the height of electric lines in areas where the movement of elephant is reported. “During 2013-14, Rs 21 crore was provided to the energy department for the purpose,” he said.

All this notwithstanding, the development of some of the proposed elephant corridors in the state has been making indifferent progress because of land problem. There have been instances of local resistance to the creation of corridors in many areas.

Wildlife officials, however, maintain that there is no need to acquire land for creating the corridors and hence there was no cause for alarm for the residents of the areas where the work was being undertaken.

The government has identified 14 elephant corridors to ensure safe movement of the jumbos who have often been found to be straying into human habitations in search of food and water.

An estimated Rs 5 crore is being spent on the development of the corridors that will cover an area of 870.61sqkm. The main objective is to provide enough food and water sources to the animals while they are on the move.

The project also involves digging of trenches and erecting solar fences around forests and sanctuaries to prevent animals from straying into human habitations.

Srivastav said that survey and demarcation work had been completed in all the 14 identified corridors.

However, field officials say they have been facing problems in certain areas where locals are protesting fearing loss of land.

Divisional forest officer of Baripada Sanjay Swain said: “Satisfactory progress could not be made as the locals opposed digging of trenches and erection of solar fences.”

Divisional forest officers of Balasore, Mayurbhanj and Sonepur districts have expressed similar views.

Range officer of Sonepur Sushil Tripathy said that there were patches of private land in the corridor area that was causing problems.

“Private land has to be acquired to take up any kind of activity there,” he said.

Srivastav, however, said: “There is absolutely no question of acquiring land for creating elephant corridors. I think there is some confusion over the issue that needs to be cleared.”

(With additional reporting by Sibdas Kundu in Balasore and Sudeep Kumar Guru in Bolangir)