KOCHI: For nature enthusiasts who love to explore the wild, a visit to Anakulam, a rusty hamlet just 40 km off Adimaly near Munnar, is a moment to cherish. Absolutely nothing can be compared to the experience of watching a big herd of wild elephants, including babies and mothers, gathered at Idacholayaar, a tributary of the Periyar to drink water. Elephant herds throng this spot, just 50 m off the road, amid the din of roaring vehicle engines, blinding vehicle headlights and the disturbing crowd.
But a project being implemented by the Mankulam division of the Forest Department has triggered a controversy as it may block the elephant pathway and drive away the pachyderms from their natural water source located on the fringes of the Kuttampuzha forest range. To reach Anakulam by road one has to pass through Idukki district, but it is the border village of Ernakulam district.
“A new kind of fencing is being installed at Anakulam called crash guard rope fencing. It is being erected at a distance of 1.2 km along the left side of Anakulam river from Anakulam to Valiyaparakutty. Once the fencing is completed, the elephants will not enter the human habitat. The total cost for the first phase is the 50 lakh. The design has been finalised by the technical committee,” says Mankulam DFO B N Nagarajan.
But green activists are up in arms against the project as the fencing is being erected just 5 m away from Anakulam Oru, a natural spring in the river bed where elephants gather to quench their thirst. Several pits - 4 ft long, 2 ft wide and 5 ft deep - have been dug up 10 ft apart to erect poles for the wire fencing. The situation can be dangerous as tourists may approach the fencing to click selfies with elephants. This may also scare way the herds.
“How can they erect the fencing in the riverbed? It is very close to the ‘oru’ where the elephants drink water. Now the tourists stand on the road, which is 50 m away from the oru and watch the elephants. Once the fencing is erected they will move towards the fence to click photographs and may even climb the fence to click selfies. This can create scare in the elephants and they may turn violent. With increasing disturbance, the herds may even stop arriving at Anakulam,” says Sabu, a villager.
According to villagers, the lack of a monitoring system to control tourists is putting the wild elephants under pressure. “Earlier elephants used to frequent the spot. But now they come rarely during day time. People sit near the ‘oru’ waiting for them to arrive, which provokes them. The herds have been frequenting the ‘oru’ for decades and they have never attacked anyone. So, there are no man-animal conflict issues that demand a sudden decision to erect a fence. Sometimes the herds cross the river and enter the road. Only recently a shop was destroyed by elephants. If we don’t provoke the animals, they will not attack us,” says a villager.
Meanwhile, around 430 tribal people belonging to 73 families living in Uriampatty tribal colony have submitted a petition to Malayattoor DFO A Ranjan against the fencing as it will stop their natural pathway.
According to forest officers, a spring in Idacholayaar has got sulphur and sodium content which the elephants relish. No study has been conducted as to why elephant herds throng the stream to drink water. A villager says the elephants cover the spring with rocks when they leave. “The elephants press their trunks into the water, remove the rocks and suck water from underneath. It is said the mineral-rich water provides elephants with the energy to withstand the summer heat,” he says.This is the only place where such huge herds can be seen from close quarters. Though hundreds of tourists throng the spot, the animals are very calm.