As a wildlife conservationist especially an elephant lover, I think very few would be happier than me when I came to know that August 12 every year would be observed as the World Elephant Day. The day which is primarily dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants was supported by a large number of wildlife organizations and many individuals in countries across the world.
The initiative overwhelmed me with joy as I thought that it must palliate tortures on the pachyderms perpetrated by inhuman humans to much extent. For I can claim that very few have been more unfortunate than me to witness unspeakable tortures on the herds of migratory pachyderms so closely.
In the year 2000, I started roaming about the forest ranges with my Nikon camera in and around my small town Bishnupur to fulfill my long-cherished dream to become a wildlife photographer that haunted me from my early childhood. But the escalating human-animal conflict in the area frequented by herds of migratory elephants from neighboring states including Jharkhand and Orissa moved me so much that I could not help captivating those poignant moments in my camera.
My heart was overwhelmed with grief witnessing unspeakable tortures perpetrated by the villagers on the herds of migratory pachyderms for eating up the cash crops like paddy, sugarcane and potatoes grown by the farmers round the year. The villagers desperate of protecting their crops chased the elephants hurling fire balls made of jute sacks and soaked in kerosene and burnt mobile and poking the elephants with pointed lance-like brick-red hot steel rods.
Unwittingly, all these tortuous sights out of the struggles for existence between men and elephants anguished my conscience so much and my mere pastime of wildlife photography transformed me into an ardent wildlife conservationist in spirit. Now I prefer to be recognized as a wildlife conservationist.
Needless to say, India is the world’s strong hold for the Asian elephants. The country boasts of being the home ground of over 70 percent of the global population of the pachyderms. Ironically, human-elephant conflict in our country escalates to a fatal degree because of continuous ravages of the elephant habitats due to developmental projects, ever increasing urbanization, human encroachment in the wildlife corridors and, above all, dearth of food and water. Elephants are left with no choice but to migrate. Naturally, human-elephant relation has plummeted here critically.
Encroachment of elephant corridors in the name of developmental works is a matter of grave concern. My photograph captioned “Impossible Odds” tells that the elephants displaced from their natural habitats are facing hardships in search of food and shelter. One fine winter morning my eyes glued to a sight.
A herd of elephants were trying to cross the railway track at Birsa Munda railway halt in Bankura district of West Bengal penetrating a dedicated elephant corridor. Though a grown up pachyderm has almost kept its front legs on the railway track, the young calf cannot muster courage to follow suit. The ‘impossible odds’ that the elephants have to face in their daily existence has been impersonated in the photograph.
The elephant corridor would have been saved provided the platform had been built at least 100 meter away from the existing area. What is horrific is that a train runs through the station without halting. I have not seen a single person getting on or off at this railway halt that has nothing including fans, switches, electric wires except but a ticket counter to boast of. Besides, mass poaching of elephants for ivory, hide, bones etc is a matter of grave concern. Ironically, when we are celebrating the eighth World Elephant Day, the population of elephants is decreasing critically.
Installation of electric fencings to obstruct the free movement of the pachyderms is making the situation more acute. They are just dispersing the herds to and fro. Above all, high voltage electric fencings are being erected indiscriminately infringing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of the Parliament of India enacted in 1960 to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on animals.
Besides, many railway tracks pass through dedicated corridors causing inconveniences to the herds. The apex court in its observation restrained the government from processing tenders issued by it for the supply of burnt mobile oil to chase away elephants. Unfortunately, the inhuman practice is still prevalent in many parts of the country.
As crop raiding behaviour is being handed down among the progeny of the grown up elephants, long lasting solutions must be innovated to restrain the animals from invading crop lands without escalating the conflict between men and elephants. LED lights with sirens and bio-acoustics are being used in some parts of Orissa and Chhattisgarh to scare away elephants. But they do not seem permanent solutions. Elephants being intelligent enough might withstand fears caused by those devices.
The Beehive Fences may prove a lasting solution to repel elephants from farming lands. The method is widely adopted in Kenya called ‘Kenyan Top Bar Hives’ and Lang troth Hives. Beehive Fences are cheap and eco-friendly methods as they are made without concrete materials. They are just dummy hives linked together with interconnecting wire gaping a few meters from one another.
They are hung in a specific formation so that the swarms of bees in the beehives release in the swing caused by the touch of one of the hives by elephants. This method has proved fruitful enough in many parts of Kenya. Elephants are scared of the humming sound of the swarms of bees as they are conscious of the painful stings of the bees. Above all, the Beehive Fences project enables the villagers to collect optimum amount of honey, too.
Actually, an elephant-consciousness needs to be infused among all. We should love elephants as we worship Lord Ganesha, the god with elephant face. We should not only be confined in the celebration of a day annually dedicated to elephants. We have to mull how to deescalate conflict between man and elephant.
Author: Wildlife conservationist & Photographer from India.