To kill or not to kill: Authorities and wildlife conservationists debate fate of elephant that recently killed a man in SunsariThe local administration is considering killing the animal as an option, but wildlife conservationists say it is unethical and will set an ugly precedent.
Sunsari District Administration Office is considering putting down a male wild elephant that has over the years killed several people and damaged homes and properties in eastern Nepal.
The idea has raised alarm among wildlife conservationists who say such an extreme action will set an ugly precedent and harm the country’s wildlife conservation reputation.
The elephant from Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve most recently killed 28-year-old Pramod Yadav of Koshi Rural Municipality on Monday morning.
In order to placate Yadav’s family members and the villagers, Sunsari local administration has suggested executing the elephant as one of the options to end its menace.
Wildlife conservationists, however, say there are many other ways to tame the elephant.
Dinesh Neupane, who has been studying elephants for over a decade, says killing a wild animal is unethical and outright wrong.
“Killing the elephant or any other animal cannot be a solution. Even in the past, we have had cases of wild animals killing people and damaging properties,” Neupane said. “Even if the elephant is killed, there will be other animals to cause trouble.”
Wild elephants from the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, which spans the three districts Sunsari, Saptari and Udayapur, have for long been responsible for loss of human lives and properties in settlements adjacent to the protected area.
The elephant that killed Yadav on Monday morning is a makhna elephant, a lone male tuskless elephant.
“Over the years, the same elephant has claimed several lives and caused massive property damage around the protected areas. But killing the animal is not the solution,” said Sanjib Acharya, a resident of Barahakshetra Municipality in Sunsari, who is also the president of Koshi Bird Society.
The society has condemned the authorities’ plan to kill the elephant without even considering other measures.
“The local authorities should have sought other measures for taming the wild elephants. Rather than finding other solutions, calling the elephant mad and preparing to kill it is unacceptable,” Acharya said. “The government and various conservation partners have been spending a huge budget for the protection of these elephants. How can we kill them?”
Wildlife experts say there is a biological explanation why elephants go on a rampage.
“Every year, male elephants hit the musth period twice—in winter and summer—when they roam around for mating. They tend to be aggressive during such times as finding a mating partner is not often easy,” said Ashok Kumar Ram, chief conservation officer at Khaptad National Park.
“When these elephants are disturbed by humans, get irritated or sense they are being attacked, they charge on humans in an act of defence.”
Musth is a natural and healthy phenomenon in adult bull elephants. The musth period can typically last between 2-3 months and occurs in three stages. When roaming around in search of mating partners, there have been many instances of musth elephants killing their mahouts.
According to Ram, he has dealt with the same elephant during his tenure as a chief conservation officer of Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve a few years ago.
He suspects the authorities’ plan to put down the elephant was influenced by the pressure exerted by local residents.
“The elephant has not gone mad as suggested by media reports that quoted local residents and officials,” he said. “The animal is simply aggressive and walking around due to mating urge.”
“The elephant has killed people, but five of those were killed inside the core area of the park and the others lost their lives while trying to chase the animal away,” he added.
The District Administration Office of Sunsari has approached the Department of National Park and Wildlife Conservation—the central government body which is responsible for the management of protected areas and conservation of wild lives—to deal with the elephant.
The department has communicated that it is against the idea of killing the elephant.
Haribhadra Acharya, spokesperson for the department, said elephants are protected mammals under the country’s law and they cannot be killed.
“The local administration might have considered killing the animal as one of the options due to the pressure from local residents. But we cannot simply authorise the killing of a protected animal just because there is a pressure,” Acharya told the Post.
“A wild elephant can be put down if it is deemed dangerous to the public, but the current case does not warrant such an action. We cannot say for certain whether the elephant has gone mad.”
Proving that the elephant has gone crazy and killing people needs an extensive study of the animal and its behaviour.
“The elephant is a teenager and has simply come into interaction with a human during its mating time. Killing the elephant or any wildlife to compensate lives claimed by wildlife is not the solution,” said Acharya.
The department has mobilised a team of wildlife technicians from Chitwan to look into the matter and to immobilise the wild elephant for some time.
“We have to consider other measures first. We also have to find out the root cause of increased human-wildlife conflicts,” said Acharya. “Killing the elephant cannot be the solution and the department is against it.”
Phanindra Mani Pokharel, chief district officer of Sunsari, said the team from Chitwan will decide the fate of the elephant which, he said, has killed 20-25 people over the years.
“The life of an elephant cannot be more valuable than human beings. The elephant has gone mad. If the situation arises where the elephant should be killed, then it will be killed,” Pokharel told the Post, over the phone. “If the elephant can be treated, then it is fine. If not, then there will be no option than to kill the elephant.”
Wild elephants are already feeling the threat of habitat loss in the country. Ever-expanding human settlements, deforestation and development projects are posing threats to their habitats, forcing these terrestrial mammoth mammals to come out of their territory.
When they wander outside the protected areas and nearby jungles, they are often caught between human settlements leading to human-elephant interactions. Such interactions lead to loss of lives and damage to crops and properties.
Every year, around two to three elephants are killed in retaliatory actions by humans, which experts say is alarming for Nepal, whose wild elephant population is below 150.
“Five have been the victim of poaching. But elephants are still trying to coexist with humans although they have lost their habitat to humans,” said Ram. “Local authorities should actually be protecting these animals rather than devising plans to kill them.”
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve has also tried to control this particular elephant in the past through measures like real-time monitoring, among others.
However, experts stress the need for identifying problems behind elephants encroaching into human settlements rather than adopting a measure to kill the wild animal based on one particular incident.
“Almost every wild animal behaves aggressively during such a phase, but that doesn’t mean we have to kill them. We have to look at specific reasons. Fencing is not properly maintained to thwart elephants’ entry into settlements,” said Neupane, the elephant researcher. “Their habitat is not managed. Elephant breeding centre is inside the park premise which can be set up inside the core area of the park so that elephants do not have to come outside for mating. This way we could minimise the chances of conflict between humans and elephants.”
Neupane also suggested installing an early warning system to inform villages about the impending danger when the elephant is roaming around or translocating the animal to areas where their chance of contacting humans are minimum.
“Only if there were an early warning system in place and local people were made aware of the movement of elephants, which is mostly at night and in the morning, the man who died recently would not be out of his house early in the morning. His life could have been saved,” said Neupane. “Before taking any extreme actions like killing the elephant, we should have enforced measures earlier so that such a situation could have been averted.”