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Environment Ministry puts Man-Elephant conflict on agenda

New Delhi: Concerned at the increasing instances of elephant-human conflict, the environment ministry has proposed to put radio collars on elephants to study their migration patterns.

“The proposal is to put radio collars on selected elephants nationwide so that their migration patterns can be studied. An analysis of their movements will help us in avoiding human-elephant conflict that results in hundreds of deaths of humans and damage to crops worth millions across the country,” said a senior environment ministry official, who did not wish to be named.

The proposal, mooted few weeks ago, is being given final shape and, once launched, will take at least a year to complete.

According to the environment ministry’s estimates, every year 400 people and 100 elephants lose their lives on account of human-elephant conflict.

“The main problem areas are the northeastern and eastern regions of the country where a majority of the elephant population is found. Lots of times elephants cross over to neighbouring nations like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal. This (radio collar) will help us in maintaining coordination with authorities of those countries as well,” the official added.

The exact number of elephants to be collared is yet to be decided, said the official and adding that the project will not be limited to eastern and northeastern regions but will be rolled out at all places with a history of such conflict, such as Uttarakhand, Kerala and Karnataka.

Movement of elephants has also been the reason for several train accidents in eastern India in the past few years. In 2013, the environment ministry decided to launch a radio-collaring exercise of elephants along train routes but, for unexplained reasons, the project failed to take off.

India launched Project Elephant in 1992 to protect the jumbos, their habitat and corridors and address man-elephant conflict. Project Elephant has a budget of around Rs.200 crore for 2012-17. More than 50% of the funds are spent on compensation for losses caused by elephants in human habitations, according to the environment ministry.

In May 2015, the environment ministry set up a panel to study elephant migration to prevent human-elephant conflict.

The group was tasked with studying the patterns of elephant dispersal and migration, review elephant corridors, consider zonation of elephant corridors and their parameters and management principles. The panel has been given two years to study the issues and submit a report.

Experts said that radio collars could help policymakers understand and prevent human-elephant conflicts.

“This move could further strengthen the elephant corridor management strategy. It seems the step is to understand the movement of jumbos. It could also become an early warning system for villagers in order to avoid conflict with elephants as the collars could provide real-time information,” said Sandeep Kumar Tiwari, deputy director and head (wild lands) at Wildlife Trust of India, a non-profit organization.

The estimated population of the Asian elephant, an endangered species, is in the region of 41,000-52,000. Of that, around 29,300-30,700 elephants are in India, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

India currently has 26 elephant reserves covering about 60,000sq.km., but experts say man-elephant conflict has been increasing mainly due to rapid industrialization and urbanization reducing the animal’s habitat.

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