Thursday, May 23, 2013
Last Updated: 22 May 19:22 PM IST
12 November 2012
KOLKATA, 12 NOV: West Bengal has become an arena of an increasing man-elephant conflict and is only next to Karnataka in this regard in the country.
According to a study conducted by Mr Kisor Choudhuri, a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, the conflict scenario indicates shrinking of space for elephants and a consequent change in their behavioural pattern.
Elephant habitats in the state are distributed through two diverse geographical zones ~ the sub-Himalayan Terai in north Bengal and in the south, relatively dry but well-vegetated areas adjacent to Chhotanagpur plateau.
The north Bengal elephant habitat is situated in the eastern extremity of the Terai region which originates from the eastern bank of the Ganges in Uttarakhand and passes through Uttar Pradesh, fringes of Nepal, northern periphery of Bihar, and ultimately terminates on the western bank of the Sankosh river.
The valley plains of north Bengal is a meeting ground for elephants coming from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, lumbering along the transit zones in Manas National Park and lower reaches of Bhutan. Seasonal routes between north Bengal and North-eastern states were active until very recently.
According to the study, the recent changes in the movement of elephants suggests they are stressed by the aggressive behaviour of tea plantation labourers in upper Assam.
Herds of elephant are taking shelter within the forests of Gorumara, Hollong, Mahananda whose sizes are insufficient for their needs.
Shortage of foraging space coupled with other man-made impediments like high-speed trains thundering through their prime habitat and usual paths, have played a significant role in reducing the pachyderm population in the state.
The recent conversion of railway lines from metre gauge to broad gauge between Siliguri and New Mal has caused the death of 31 elephants over the past 10 years, the survey stated.
Despite this, the now-defunct Mal to Maynaguri line is being broadened and it is being apprehended that once it becomes functional, this track passing through Gorumara National Park will become a fatal spot for elephants.
The marked denudation of forests in a small patch within Nepal have led to the abandonment of a traditional migration route of the herds.
Recently some herds tried to enter the eastern fringes of Nepal by crossing the Mechi River, receiving bullet injuries sustained on the other side of the border.
Such behaviour points towards their desperate but determined efforts at reclaiming lost ground that was their traditional home range prior to settlement of Nepalese armed ex-servicemen in the bordering districts with India, the study pointed out .
While the herds need a large range with ample food stock, constriction of space has made them venture into their old use areas whose land use pattern have changed in recent past.
A combination of moist forests and riverine open grassland in south Bengal districts on the Jharkhand border, including Purulia, Midnapur (east) and Midnapur (west) has seen herds arriving from the Dalma sanctuary.
The leasing out of portions of forests for iron-ore mining in Orissa and Jharkhand together with the maze of canals of the Subarnarekha Multipurpose Project has reduced the traditional migration path of the herds causing isolation of their habitat.
Denied access to their traditional migration paths to Odisha, these elephants are forced to venture into man-made Acacia and coppice Sal forests in adjacent south Bengal districts where they remain for almost six months to allow regeneration of fodder base back in Dalma, the study stated.
Staying in these forests with insufficient resources and in close proximity to densely populated districts brings about human-elephant conflicts of the worst order, the study stated.