Jumbo job for foresters during migration season

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As October approaches, forest department officials in the Coimbatore region gear up for their annual challenge — the migration of elephants in the Nilgiris biosphere — because the wild jumbos passing through the borders of the textile town raid farms and villages along the way.

Following the massive intrusions by herds of elephants into Thadagam, Thudiyalur and the surrounding areas in the past few years, the forest department focused on these regions and has been reasonably successful.

“The elephant-proof trenches (EPTs) and other precautionary measures such as solar fencing and providing drinking water facility in the forest areas have drastically reduced animal movement in these areas,” says district forest officer (Kovai) V. Thirunavukkarasu.

“But, the problems have begun this year on the western side as a few herds have been wreaking havoc in Ettimadai, Madukarai and other areas on the Palakkad road,” he said.

The forest department has always been short-staffed with rangers, forest guards and watchers working long hours to monitor jumbo movement. Last year, the department roped in locals for the work under the ‘Friends of Forest Department’ scheme. “But, that did not take off successfully for various reasons,” senior forest officials said.

Despite constant monitoring and other efforts, people still continue to get killed by jumbos although the numbers have reduced this year. “We are now digging EPTs in other areas after providing gaps for the animals to pass through,” said the DFO.

Over the years, some lone tuskers have got used to their surroundings and become residents. “They are our biggest concern as we have to watch them throughout the year,” he says.

Bears new threat in Kovai forest range

Even as the forest department has been tackling the elephant menace, the recent attack by an adult male bear on a 70-year-old man from Pattiyarkovilpatti Thottam on the foothills of Vellingiri hills poses a new threat for the forest department.

On September 24, the sloth bear attacked and critically injured Mariappan who was rushed to the government hospital in Coimbatore. On the following day, forest officials successfully trapped and tranquilised the animal and later released it in the TN-Kerala border.

“While we have always known of the presence of a significant bear population in the Western Ghats, including the Coimbatore region, this is the first such attack in the last few years," a senior forest official said.

However, the department is not too worried about bear-human conflicts as they claim that the animal feeds mostly on fruits and vegetables and seldom steps out of the forest to attack humans.

“Even in the recent case, villagers said they had spotted the bear for over a week but mistook it to be a wild boar and did not report it. If the public alert us of animal movement, then our staff will ensure conflict is minimised,” DFO Thirunavukkarasu said.

Dry rivers drive wild animals to villages

With the monsoon playing hide and seek, most water holes in the forests of the Nilgiris are drying up, forcing elephants and gaurs to wander into nearby villages in search of food and water.

The animals are now often seen crossing the roads along the highways near the Satyamangalam and Mudumalai reserve forests, say concerned forest officers.

“It’s a difficult situation as all the rivers and rivulets are drying up. We have created artificial water troughs and are filling the natural ones using tankers to keep the elephants from wandering into villages,” says district forest officer, Sathyamangalam, N. Sathish, adding that crop raiding points by elephants have been marked and personnel posted near them to drive the animals back into the forests “It’s usual for large animals to migrate in search of fodder and water, but when the rains fail they travel further and often stray into human settlements.

The animals are only moving in what they consider their home range. So the growing man-elephant conflict we are seeing today can reduce only if forests return to the way the way before human intrusion,” feels Mr K V R K Thirunaranan, founder of the Nature Trust.

The drying up of the lakes is taking a toll on tourism too. “This time of the year the water is usually 100 feet deep in the Pykhara lake in Ooty .

But due to poor rainfall the massive lake has filled up to only 40 per cent of its holding capacity and bigger boats are now using the lake carefully, considering how shallow it is at present,” says an officer of the Tamil Nadu tourism department.

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