Keonjhar: Shrinking of forest cover in Keonjhar, Dhenkanal, Sundargarh and Deogarh districts has led to drastic habitat loss for elephants, a report said. Elephant causalities in these districts have not stopped despite several preventive measures.
During the last one decade, Keonjhar district alone has reported 41 elephant death cases. Environmentalists have expressed their deep concern over the casualties as no project for elephant conservation and corridor protection has been initiated in the state so far.
According to experts elephant corridors are often damaged for various reasons resulting which animals often head towards human settlements and cause mayhem. Some pointed out that petrol pumps on NH-24 and 49, and long queues of mineral-laden heavy vehicles parked on national highways of Keonjhar district has resulted in untoward incidents.
Environmentalist Bimbadhar Behera has expressed his concern and opined, “Despite the demand for construction of underpass at some locations on these national highways for easy movement of wildlife, the state government has shown zero interest towards the issue.”
Similarly, local people and social workers have opposed opening up of petrol pumps along the elephant corridors in Keonjhar district. Reacting to this, Sadar sub-Collector Ramachandra Kisku said, “We will take immediate steps on receipt of any complaint or in case of protests against opening up of petrol pumps on national highways.”
On being contacted, Ghatagaon forest range officer Ashok Nayak said, “Although there is an underpass on the highway for wild animals, a petrol pump setup few yards away is allegedly causing hindrance in the free movement of pachyderms while crossing the road.”
Worthy to note, a forest area of 10,000 hectares in the aforesaid four districts was earmarked for Baitarani elephant conservation project about 20 years ago for safety of elephants. Seminars and workshops were held to gather public opinion about the project in those districts. Awfully, the ambitious project got stuck in red tape.
Likewise, an elephant corridor project was also put into cold store. Sources said lakhs of rupees was initially spent on identifying a vast area for elephant corridor comprising Karo-Karmapada under Barbil range and Karadangi-Kakudia under Telkoi range in the district.
However, much before the approval of this project, state government permitted mining of iron and limestone from the same area. There are over 100 elephants in Keonjhar forest division alone with 40 of them in Telkoi range. The elephant corridor was planned as a 32-km stretch from Karadangi to Kakudia area in Keonjhar district.
Wildlife lovers and environmentalists voiced concern over safety of the pachyderms which have been facing threat from habitat loss, non-availability of food, water and many other factors. They pointed out that elephants should have adequate fodder inside forests.
Horrifying deaths of elephants in Odisha have sparked debates. Unavailability of safe corridors to pass through is giving rise to the perennial issue of human-animal conflict.
Elephants, without suitable corridors to pass through, usually enter human settlements; damage crops, devastate houses and get mobbed or even electrocuted.
Declaration of corridors as notified protected zones and stopping of developmental activities in the vicinity is imperative to save the pachyderms, said experts. If some developmental activity cannot be stopped at all, appropriate planning should be made involving conservationists who have been studying and trying to conserve such corridors, they added.
Moreover, many mitigation measures can be developed such as underpasses, overpasses, check gates and bridges. Those can also be incorporated into a development plan, experts suggested.
STUCK IN LIMBO
20 years ago, a forest area of 10,000 hectares spread across Keonjhar, Dhenkanal, Sundargarh and Deogarh districts was earmarked for Baitarani elephant conservation project. Even seminars and workshops were held to collect public opinion about the project in those districts. However, the ambitious project got stuck in red tape.