MYSURU: Shivamurthy, a 67-year-old farmer, owns three acres of land at Attigulipura in Suvarnavathi achukat of Chamarajanagar taluk. He had borrowed money to plant 250 coconut saplings that he had nurtured for five years. They were expected to give yield next year. But recently, Shivamurthy and his wife were in for a shock as a herd of elephants ran amok through his field, destroying 24 coconut trees besides damaging the fence.
Though such elephant attacks are not uncommon in these border villages, what was strange was the timing of the incident. Normally, villagers expect elephants to come visiting during summer months, but this attack on Shivamurthy’s farm has occurred in September, in the middle of monsoon when forests are expected to have enough water and fodder. But the continuous dry spell has left forests dry, forcing animals out of forests. Villagers living on the fringes of forests are scared to step out of their homes late evenings as elephants are commonly being sighted near villages on the Chamarajanagar-Coimbatore highway.
Karthik’s woes are no different from Shivamurthy. He too had borrowed from his relatives and friends to take up farming on a land taken on lease. He took up banana cultivation and had slept at the shed in the farm to protect his crop from wild animals. But Ganesha Chaturthi was a sad day for him as elephants ripped through his farm, destroying over 300 plants. Till then, he had managed to save his crop from wild boars, but he could do nothing with the elephants. Karthik raised an alarm and tried to alert his neighbours, but that did not help.
Near Channanajaswamy temple too elephants have destroyed one acre of banana plantation. Mahesh, who is spending his nights at the farm along with his brother, said, “I may be losing crops to wildlife attacks, but I will continue to do farming.”
Basavanna of Ramapura village said he lost nearly 40 per cent of his maize crop in the wild boar attack as he did not have money to install a solar fence.
Attacks by wild animals over the last 10-15 years have drastically reduced the quantum of produce in their farms. Frustrated youngsters have been migrating to Mysuru, Bengaluru and cities in Tamil Nadu to earn a living. Some people have also lost their lives, further scaring the villagers.
The government does pay compensation for crop loss. But farmers, requesting anonymity, said they have to bribe the ground staff to visit their farms, conduct mahazar and send reports to higher officials. “How can we pay bribes when we have lost our livelihoods,” asked a woman farmer. Farmers in Punajnur and nearby villages close to the BRT wildlife sanctuary and adjacent Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve said wild animals are suffering because of failure of monsoon and long dry spells. There is very little fodder for animals as the invasive species lantana has taken over most stretches of forests, while bamboo has been drying up for the last five years. Increased tourism activities, construction of resorts and homestays are also to blame, they added While farmers said the increased man-animal conflicts are because of the jump in wildlife populations, experts denied it.
Wildlife activist Malleshappa said the forest department that has restarted the work of creating elephant corridors in Moodahalli, Halathur and other areas should purchase more land to expand such corridors to check man-animal conflicts.
He said that recent incidents are not because of an increased population of wild animals, but due to dry spell in their habitats. He feared that such conflicts would only go up during dry, summer months.
The forest department is installing fences using rails in Biligirirangaswamy Temple Reserve, Bandipur and Nagarahole to stop animals from straying out.
If sparse rain continues, waterholes within forests will dry up by January-February, making life miserable for those living on the fringes of forests. Over the last five years, bamboo has dried up, making their favourite food unavailable for elephants.
Experts suggested that forest officials should collect bamboo seeds, clear lantana bushes and grow bamboo groves to help animals, especially elephants.