Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jun 30:
The total head count of the jumbos in Odisha has increased marginally from 1930 to 1954, as against the last enumeration held in 2012. However, the latest census report has brought no cheer to the wildlife experts and environmentalists as the lone elephant sanctuary in the state—Chandaka—houses a meagre eight jumbos, the population of which was 80 around 13 years ago.
The Chandaka-Dampara wildlife sanctuary sprawling over an area of 193 sq km was designated as an elephant reserve in 1982. During that time, there were over 120 elephants in the sanctuary.
During the census held in 2002, there were over 80 elephants, a decline in 40 jumbos within a span of 20 years. While 2-3 pachyderms had died due to various reasons, the others had left the forest to other areas for lack of availability of food. Unrestricted entry and felling of trees by the wood mafia led to the food crisis in the jungle. Though forest department undertook several measures to ward off such element, it yielded little results.
As per data available, there were over 60 elephants in Chandaka in 2004. However, it dropped significantly since then. I fell to 27 in 2012 raising concerns for the forest officials.
Waking up to the situation, the forest department took measures like growing sugarcane, paddy and other plants to provide fodder to the elephants. But, the initiatives failed seemingly due to shortage of staff and other factors. Besides, the hemp cultivation inside Dampada forest range posed danger for the elephants.
Surprisingly, there are as many as five hamlets inside the sanctuary, which are yet to be relocated. The lack of coordination between the Forest and Revenue department has contributed to a flourishing human habitation inside the reserve forest. The human activities have played a major role in the depletion of forest cover as well as food for the elephants. The presence of encroachers is deterring the jumbos to move to isolated places. With the lack of coordination between Khurda and Cuttack district administrations, the tribals did not relocate to other areas. They continued to depend on forest resources for their living which contributed to relocation of pachyderms.
The expansion of the city limits and construction of houses on forest land have encroached upon their habitat. The flourishing real estate business in the city has had its impact on agricultural activities too. People shunned agriculture to make money through real estate business causing scarcity of food for the elephants. These acute crises lead to migration of the jumbos to forests in Athagarh, Dhenkanal and north Odisha. Some even moved to bordering Andhra Pradesh via Ganjam district.
Five years ago, the elephants from Chandaka forest that moved to other areas used to return back after some time. But, they aren’t coming back to Chandaka in the recent times.
Environmentalists have warned that if concrete steps are not taken then Chandaka would be devoid of elephants soon.
A month before the final figure of the elephant census in the Chandaka wildlife sanctuary was made public, www.odishasuntimes.com had reported that the number of pachyderms in the sanctuary was unlikely to reach double digits.
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