NEW DELHI: India is now exploring the Sri Lankan model of palmyra tree fencing around human habitations to check the increasing cases of human-elephant conflict which, on an average, results in 400 human deaths annually.
The Environment Ministry will be interacting with Sri Lankan authorities to see if the tree fence model can be replicated in India, following its success in the island nation. According to a senior official in the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Sri Lanka has succeeded in bringing down cases of conflict by preventing elephants from entering human habitation, using the low-cost solution of tree fence.
“Palmyra trees are grown in a zig-zag manner with a five-foot gap in between them and eight feet gaps between the rows, which creates a 40-feet barrier between humans and elephants,” said an Environment Ministry official, adding that the sharp edges of trees would help in keeping the elephants away.
While the talks are at a very nascent stage, the MoEF official believes it can be implemented since it is cost effective, sustainable and creates tree cover. The trees also provide fruits for elephants and generate income to the local people. Sri Lanka held field trials at four places and found it successful and a better solution than the electric fences.
Worried over rampant incidents of elephant herds straying into human habitats and damaging crops, the Union Government earlier this year suggested to all elephant range States to follow the African model of using bee fences and chilly fences to deter elephants from raiding crops and to avoid human-animal conflict. Kerala has already begun trials using chilly fences.
Besides, the Ministry has also mooted a proposal for collar-tagging elephants, as being done for tracking tigers, to study their movement. The idea is get a pattern of elephant dispersal and migration across the country and use that for avoiding human animal conflicts.
India has the largest population of Asian elephants, with the 2012 census putting the number between 25,000 and 30,000 in 16 States.
India launched Project Elephant in 1992 to protect the pachyderms, their habitat and corridors, besides addressing man-elephant conflict. Elephants have been straying into human habitations in search of food as large forest areas are being destroyed for development and urbanisation. Over 200 elephants have been killed in the last three years due to poaching, electrocution, train hits and poisoning.