KOLKATA: Under fire for hunting down two rogue elephants in the last month, West Bengal forest department has defended itself by saying they have saved not only human lives but also 8-10 jumbos.
"Last year alone, 14 elephants were killed by local people as a retaliatory step. Out of them ten were innocent. They were not rogues, but villagers electrocuted them out of fear and anger. To reduce this conflict, we had to take this unpleasant decision of hunting these elephants," state's Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Pradeep Vyas told PTI.
He said by bringing down one or two rogue elephants, they had saved 8-10 elephants who would have otherwise been victims of retaliatory killing by villagers.
In separate incidents last month, two full-grown elephants, which were declared rogue after they were found attacking people and damaging property, were shot dead by forest personnel in Beliatore forest of Bankura district.
After the first incident on July 5, some forest officials had posed in front of the dead elephant signaling their victory over the pachyderm.
The department has now reprimanded them and issued instructions that in every such case, the ground officials should observe a two-minute silence as a mark of respect to the dead wildlife, officials said.
One more elephant was declared rogue in Jhargram, but has now disappeared in the forests.
"As per provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the chief wildlife warden has all the power to take action against any rogue animal in case of a conflict situation. They need our permission only when they have to do something as part of a wildlife management strategy," Project Elephant director R K Srivastava said from Delhi.
The state government's request for permission to capture 16 elephants which are causing damage to crops, human life and property in the districts is still pending approval from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
The elephant which was hunted last Sunday in Bankura forest was among this list of elephants. Once they are declared rogue by the state chief wildlife warden, the forest department can capture or even shoot down the jumbos as a last resort.
In the last 4-5 months, forest personnel have captured three such elephants as an emergency measure.
One of them was rescued from Burdwan University campus at 1.30 in the night.
Forest department officials said once they capture or kill one aggressive member of a large herd, all of the remaining ones would leave the area.
"Elephants are very concerned about the well-being of their other herd members. If we shoot or capture one, everyone will panic and retreat into the forest," officials said.
However it is not possible to capture large elephants which are above the height of eight feet as they cannot be trained later on by men.
Many such herds come from Dalma forests of the neighbouring Jharkhand.
According to foresters, elephants have damaged 3000-5000 houses in the last year and killed 108 people.
"We are not happy to kill elephants, but we have to take this unpleasant decision to control man-elephant conflict," Vyas said.
To declare an elephant rogue, the forest department takes into account the behaviour of the animal including whether it made a trumpeting sound after an attack.