Hazaribagh/Ranchi, Sept. 9: A herd of 13 elephants, including a month-old calf, went on the rampage at Gibraltar House, a heritage building near Canary Hill, Hazaribagh, before daybreak today, a first of its kind incident that raised fears on whether industrial activity has muddled traditional jumbo corridors permanently.
Bengal or Jharkhand, there are conflicting versions of where elephants are from, but before 4am, the hungry herd stormed the grilled verandah of Gibraltar House, smashing 15-feet ornate grids, breaking furniture and devouring roots of potted plants. Later, the herd broke the boundary wall of two private properties on the way before settling at Bhelwatand village on the foothills of Canary Hills.
No human casualty has been reported. Today being Ganesh Chaturthi, villagers, seeing the resting elephants, deemed the sight to be “lucky” and joined their hands in prayer.
But what is unlucky is the lack of balance between the concerns of development and ecology.
Hazaribagh divisional forest officer (east) Ajit Singh, who claimed the elephants were from Bengal, said the mammals follow a specified corridor in Jharkhand. They enter Dumka, Jamtara, Giridih, Dhanbad-Bokaro fringes and then Bagodar-Chalkuja village to reach Ichak and Daru blocks in Hazaribagh district.
“Their diversion to Canary Park may be because of some obstruction in normal movement. Food is also a major issue,” DFO Singh said.
Bulu Imam, Intach convener and environment expert, who alerted the forest department, claimed the herd was from Jharkhand.
He added that mining and industrial activity across the North Karanpura circuit — the site of DVC, Jindal, NTPC and other running and proposed units — disturbed the traditional elephant corridor from Patratu to Palamau. “Elephants search for alternative routes and end up confused, hungry and angry,” he said.
The situation will worsen, Imam feared. He added the construction of the bypass of Ranchi-Hazaribagh four-lane widening, which would extend to Barhi, would reduce Canary Hill and its wildlife to a “molehill”.
“There will be a grand motorable stretch from Ranchi to Patna but at a great expense to flora and fauna. Elephants will be completely bewildered,” he said.
Imam has requested NHAI officials to route the bypass from the eastern side of Canary Hills, not the western side, to protect the area’s ecology and megaliths as far as possible. “Unplanned development destroys wildlife. Elephants are forced out of habitats and forage for food in villages, escalating man-animal conflict,” he said.
Industry, road work muddy migration routes of herds
|(From top) A guard points to the damaged iron grille of Gibraltar House, a villager prays after seeing one of the elephants and range officer
GK Pandey inspects the demolished wall of the forest department’s training centre in Hazaribagh on Monday. Pictures by Vishvendu Jaipuriar
Routing the bypass from the east would also protect Gibraltar House, the 22-acre heritage property built by late Justice S.C. Mallik. The British named Canary Hill the Gibraltar of India due to its resemblance with the rock, which led to the building being named after it. The picturesque spot was once a locale for Bengali — and the odd Hindi — film shoots.
Foresters, when contacted about the presence of a wild herd close to town, said they were on high alert. “We won’t let the herd enter the town. We are also on alert against hungry elephants attacking midday meal and anganwadi stores,” said Hazaribagh divisional forest officer Singh.
Range officer G.K. Pandey said the elephants were right now near a pond at the foothills of Canary Hills. “Every effort is being made to steer them to the forests and prevent another rampage,” he said.
DFO Singh added they had deputed foresters at Gibraltar House and Canary Hill as well as put villagers in strategic places to track the herd.
“A vehicle with a public announcement system to inform villagers about dos and don’ts has been activated,” he said.