PALAKKAD: They were a reminder, the three elephants that roamed around freely in Palakkad. Of how the encroachment of elephant paths and chasing by the local population, albeit out of fear, can turn life almost upside down. At times, road transport was blocked and the movement of trains were rescheduled a bit between certain stations to facilitate the animals ‘stroll’ back into their natural habitat.
While the rate of man-wild elephant conflict is proportionately low in Kerala, given the higher elephant population compared to other states, incidents of animals expanding the boundaries of their territories in search of food and water have been a recurring theme in recent times. A prime reason is the disruption of elephant corridors due to increased human activity over the years. “The free movement of wild elephants has been restricted and this has been aggravated by a marginal increase in the elephant population,” says Rajesh, a wildlife enthusiast whose main vocation is to track both domestic and wild elephants in Kerala.“The shortage of fodder and wild growth in the forests was another reason for these elephants to come down to the human areas. Imagine a situation last week when a wild elephant walked up to the ticket counter of the Olavakkode railway station at midnight. It was unimaginable a few years ago.”
He says wild elephants are now entering the plains from all sides of the Western Ghats. From the Karulai range in Malappuram, the wild elephants have reached Nilambur town. In Attappadi and Mannarkad, Puduppariyaram and Mundur, the elephants had come up to Keralassery town last year. This year, through Mundur, they reached Kinavaloor, Parli, Ottappalam and Mankara in Palakkad, and on to Thiruvilwamala in Thrissur. The beasts were entering Nelliampathy from the entire Sahayadri hills too.
Says Mohammed Ali, a native of Mankara, who stood watching the three elephants cooling in the Bharathapuzha: “We send our children to the madrassa early in the morning. We also travel to the nearby mosque for prayers after dusk. Many people go out to work. Our houses are not that strong either. There were no lights in the area. We live in constant fear. People going out and intimidating the elephants by bursting crackers, beating drums and burning torches forced the elephants to move from Iyermala and Maankurissy to Peringottukurissy, Kottayi and Thiruvilwamala areas.”
Adds Kannan, a farmer of Kayarampara near Ottappalam: “The elephants destroyed large tracts of paddy, plantains, pumpkins and small coconut palms causing huge losses.” Wildlife expert and former Kerala Forest Research Institute director E P Easa says the Forest Department should watch out for the permanent exit point of such elephants from the forests