The translocation last week of Arikomban, the rogue elephant that gained notoriety for marauding ration shops for rice, from its home of Chinnakanal near Munnar to the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) has raised ethical questions like how right it is shift an be elephant from its habitat. A corollary is whether this will provide a permanent solution to the serious problem of man-animal conflict that people there face.
The answer is an emphatic no because like the people who protested against Arikomban's presence there, as also those around Palakkad when it was earlier proposed to translocate the tusker to the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve bordering the district, elephants gathered in Chinnakanal a few days after their herd-mate Arikomban was shifted. While it may be too early to say whether the animals would continue such attacks, chances cannot be ruled out, a top forest official told Metro Vaartha. For the time being, Arikomban's issue may have been resolved. But it is temporary. There are other such big tuskers that will meander into human habitats as the area is part of the elephant corridor.
Another top forest official put it thus: "It has to be decided if this earth is only for human beings. If the answer is in the affirmative, the animals and trees that can vanish for human settlements. But even human existence is dependent on forests."
He says it is humans who have encroached upon forest land, the home of animals. Through settlements, roads, resorts, etc this interface has been happening since long, shrinking the homeland of animals. A time has come to strike a right balance with short, medium and long-term strategies. In the short-term, there could be putting up fences or like in this case of a particular animal being moved out. But that is in the rarest of rare cases. This does not resolve the problem as more animals are there.
The long-term one should be to ensure that forest land is restored. It is not just animals and trees that make the forest which is vital for human existence. People would have to be relocated in the best way and interventions like roads through forests, resorts, etc should be minimised, he adds.
There has to be a decentralised strategy in countering man-animal conflict. Local self-governments should be given the responsibility with the forest department providing technical support. The particular case of tranqualising Arikomban and shifting it was only one among the many complex cases the department has been involved in and caught public eye because of media coverage. There has to be people's involvement in resolving man-animal conflict, he asserts.
Another top forest official who has worked in Chinnakkal area points to the elephants in the area being residents and unable to move out owing to settlements, criss-cross of roads, resorts and the like. It is literally blocking a corridor that could have made them move to Anamalai through Chinnar, both protected areas. Elephants are known to traverse long distances. But unfortunately, for the elephants to move from Chinnakkanal to PTR via Tamil Nadu is near impossible because of the wide national highway and roads built in between. The corridor has been broken forcing the around 25 elephants to stay put in a limited area that is shrinking and so they have no option but venture out to human settlements. A lasting solution would be proper translocating of people from there and not curbing the movement of animals, he adds.