|(Top) A herd of around 80 elephants damage crops in Balasore. (Below) Forest department officials and irate villagers try to chase the animals away. Telegraph pictures
Bhubaneswar, Nov. 18: Elephants continue to wreak havoc in many human habitations across the state. This has happened after habitat degradation due to indiscriminate mining and industrialisation forced them out of the forests. Balasore’s Nilgiri block was the latest to suffer the wrath of the mighty elephants.
A herd of around 80 elephants has been on the rampage in more than a dozen villages in Pundal area of the block damaging standing paddy over hundreds of acres.
“The herd has been camping in the area for last three days. Details of the crop destroyed can only be worked out after we have drive the elephants away,” said a Balasore forest division official.
Reports said that affected farmers were demanding compensation at the rate of Rs 20,000 per acre which was 10 times more than the prevailing government rate in such cases. Forest department sources said the elephants, which had strayed from the Dalma sanctuary in Jharkhand, bordering the adjoining Mayurbhanj district, had never been seen in the area in such large numbers.
“Elephants from the Dalma sanctuary enter Mayurbhanj and adjoining areas via Midnapore in Bengal and then go back to their original habitat. But these days, they often get disoriented and stray into new areas,” said former state chief wildlife warden Saroj Patnaik, adding that the elephant habitat was getting eroded because of industries and mining, especially in mineral and forest-rich districts like Keonjhar and Sundergarh.
Wildlife expert B.K. Patnaik, who also retired as the state’s chief wildlife warden, called for restrictions on setting up industries close to elephant corridors because they impeded the free movement of the animals.
“Mining and canal projects were also restricting the movements of these animals,” said Patnaik emphasising the need for reviving the degraded corridors and creating new ones to suit the needs of the jumbos.
Chief minister Naveen Patnaik, who also holds the forest and environment portfolio, called on the divisional forest officers, who assembled at the state secretariat today, to address the issue seriously.
“Fragmentation of forests and human activity on a pervasive scale are the main factors diminishing the habitat quality and endangering safety and security of elephants,” said Naveen.
The state, which is currently implementing an elephant management plan, has identified 14 elephant corridors covering an area of 870 sq km for improvement.
Sources said care would be taken to ensure adequate food and water for the elephants in these corridors so that they can travel long distances without getting distracted.
Marauding elephants have killed 480 people and damaged crops across 32,000 acres in the state since 2001.
The state has been having a tough time paying compensation to the victims and their families.