Give them spaceWe cannot mitigate elephant-human conflicts without addressing their shrinking habitats.
On Monday, 28-year-old Pramod Yadav was killed by an adult male elephant while working on his wheat field in Koshi Rural Municipality. The tragedy is the latest incident of human-animal wildlife conflict in the buffer zones of Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, where 24 people have lost their lives, and some 250 people have been injured in the past four years in separate incidents involving wild elephants in Sunsari, Saptari and Udayapur districts.
Municipality officials say the lone elephant identified as Makhna or tuskless elephant has already killed 18 people including Yadav, and is wreaking havoc in the buffer zone areas across the three districts. Affected residents have even claimed that the elephant has gone mad and demanded that it be killed. On Tuesday, affected local units and district officials met the reserve administration to discuss plans to control the tuskless elephant, and decided on killing it. The call has raised alarm among conservationists who say such an extreme action will set an ugly precedent, and send a wrong message to the world while many alternatives to tame the elephant or reduce conflict with the tuskers have been ignored.
In what is a sensible move, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation has communicated that it is against the idea of killing the elephant, which is a protected mammal under the country’s laws. However, under Clause 10 (A) of the National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, a rogue elephant can be killed to save people’s lives and properties. But proving whether the elephant has gone mad requires extensive study, and amidst mounting pressure to kill the lone jumbo, a team of wildlife technicians and experts from Chitwan National Park is currently studying its behaviour and mental state before coming to any conclusion.
Wildlife habitat in Nepal is constantly under threat due to expanding human settlements and deforestation for agriculture and mega infrastructure projects across the country. Habitat loss compounded by fragmentation has not only resulted in a decline in the wildlife population, but it has also increased the rate of human-wildlife conflict, often resulting in death and injury to people. But killing an elephant, or any wildlife for that matter, is not a solution. It’s outrageous because the elephants are not the problem. We are.
Some 200 wild elephants live in small herds across the Tarai belt, mostly in west and far west Nepal. It is important to note that most elephant-human encounters have occurred outside the protected areas in human settlements, and incidents have been increasing every year. But there are proven strategies that we can adapt to coexist. According to the World Wildlife Fund, growing crops that deter elephants and restoring degraded biological corridors to facilitate their movement away from human settlements could mitigate elephant-human conflict, and save lives and properties.
It would be wise if we look at our own actions that have invited these bloody circumstances by encroaching on wildlife territories and taking up more space to chase our development aspirations. Our efforts in the past decade to double the tiger population has been lauded worldwide, so much so that Nepal’s habitat management for the endangered tigers has become a model for the world to follow. We need to replicate this model for elephants and give them their space because it is clear that without addressing their shrinking habitats, we cannot mitigate elephant-human conflicts and deaths.