‘Jumbo’ disaster: Human toll rate of 6 a month propels Odisha to No 3 in country in 2018-19

The State with a toll of 105 topped the country in 2017-18. Odisha needs to go the WWF-Sonitpur way to curb jumbo-human conflict and unemployment in the region

Bhubaneswar: Odisha seems staring at a big crisis as six get killed by the pachyderms every month. The State figured among the top three nationally in human toll in jumbo attacks.

As per a written statement tabled in the house by Forest and Environment Minister Bikram Arukh, the human toll in the last 4-years due to jumbo attacks were 369.  It has not mentioned any year-wise toll.

However, the data available with the Wildlife Society of India (WSI) puts the toll at 72 in 2018-19. Since April – mid July 2019, the jumbo-led human toll in the State has been put at 10.

The data further revealed that Odisha with 72 human toll finished third in the country after Jharkhand and Assam in 2018-19. The State with 105 deaths had topped the country in 2017-18.

According to accessed data available with Wildlife Society of India, in the first three months of year 2019-20, the human casualty has been lower at 10 vis-a-vis of 26 in 2018-19.  However, data shows the rate of human lives lost in human-elephant conflict in Odisha is not on the descent.

The major concern is some conflict zones now record more casualties over the past years. The fall in human toll this year is attributed to pachyderm attack-led deaths that are limited to only 6 of the 12 districts.

 

A study of WSI data shows that State witnesses maximum casualties in wild elephant attacks during the month of March-April, June-July, August and November-December.

Moreover, it was observed that around 10-12 districts are affected. While Dhenkanal was the worst hit, it is followed by Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj, Angul, Keonjhar and Balasore. The same is  to some extent witnessed in Jharsuguda, Nayagarh and Ganjam districts.

In the first three months of April – June 2019,  Angul has recorded the highest of 5 deaths. Keonjhar with 3 and Mayurbhanj with 2 deaths finished second and third, respectively.

Sample the contrast. When North Eastern India accounts the largest elephant population (around 10,000) in the country, the total human toll in human-elephant face-offs was below 90 in 2018-19. Historically, Odisha despite having 2,700 elephant population has been recording higher human toll than the NE States since 2014-15.

According to Wildlife Society of Odisha (WSO) head Biswajit Mohanty, the high human toll in Odisha is attributed to encroachment and destruction of elephant habitats owing to mining and irrigation projects.

“Over the years, Dhenkanal has been the worst hit by accounting for around 50 per cent of human toll in Odisha. The reason: Rengali dam and stone quarries. Elephants from Keonjhar come here since ages, post canal construction their movement was impeded. Dry canals and stone quarries then compelled the big mammals to raid villages for food and water,” he explained.

Water and crops are important factors that necessitate the movement of big mammals. Wild life activists rue that lack of effective measures from the State Government are acerbating the conflicts and the toll. NE States and Western Ghat States like Karnataka and Kerala had taken many ameliorating measures to minimise human-elephant conflicts, they added.

Odisha, though, has made trench walls as armoury against elephant raids on villages or crops, its disadvantages are many and the cost of construction is also high. As a result, it remains ineffective.

Its high time the State took a leaf from Sonitpur in Assam, which had the worst human toll for decades.

The Wildlife Division in Sonitpur, with assistance from World Wildlife Fund,  formed conflict mitigation squads. Around 72 such squads were formed with 15 – Kumkis (trained elephants) and stationed at strategic points. The result: It not only averted conflicts but also provided good job opportunity to youths of affected villages.