Keonjhar: The forest department spends cores of rupees on protection of elephants in Keonjhar, but casualties of the animals are on the rise in the mineral-rich district, a report said.
Lapses in monitoring of the movement of elephants under Keonjhar forest division recently came to light. The department suspended a forester and a forest guard June 18 for negligence in duty after two elephants were found electrocuted by poachers in Joda section of Champua range June 14.
The killing raised serious questions on the field intelligence and patrolling as forest officials of Joda section were clueless about the incident till locals informed them.
Apart from poaching, accidents and electrocution, the animals have been facing a threat from the shrinking of the forest cover and loss of habitat owing to mining.
The report said over last two months, five elephants were found dead in Champua and Barbil ranges where the animals are said to be unsafe for various reasons.
Statistics have it that since 2010 till date, Keonjhar forest division alone has reported 51 elephant deaths. In 2010-11, the district saw deaths of nine elephants while four died in 201-12.
Nine elephants died in 2012-13; four each in 2013-14 and 2014-15; six in 2015-16; two each in 2017-18 and 2018-19; six in 2019-20 and five in 2020-21(till date).
According to official data, there are 92 elephants in the Keonjhar division. To track the movement and ensure their safety, the department has engaged 110 people while 19 vehicles are pressed into service.
Range officers, foresters and forests guards are also on the act. Trenches have been dug around forests to prevent intrusion of animals into human habitations.
Environmentalists expressed concern over the growing casualties of the elephants. They pointed out that despite all preventive and protective measures, elephants still face dangers due to various factors.
Concerned over elephant casualties, environmentalist and honourary wildlife warden Harekrushna Mohant said, ”Unabated mining, and declining forest cover resulted in loss of habitat and shortage of fodder. Increasing movement of mineral-laden vehicles, encroachment of forests, infrastructure development like roads and railways and industrial units in the forested pockets have posed serious threat to the elephants. With the habitat loss, the animals stray out of forests and enter villages, leading to man-elephant conflicts.”
Experts suggested that underpasses, overpasses, check gates and bridges should be incorporated into a development plan in the forested pockets to mitigate elephant casualties.
DFO Santosh Joshi said for protection of elephants, special squads have been formed for 24X7 monitoring while local people are being sensitized to the need for elephant safety so that man-elephant conflict can be avoided.
“Each elephant herd is being tracked by a team,” he added.