PALAKKAD: A screaming and chasing crowd, deafening sound of crackers and an unknown terrain. The sight of a herd of 16 wild elephants, including calves, huddled on the IIT campus at Kanjikode in Palakkad on Monday, was distressing. The herd had entered the human habitation from the adjoining Walayar forests through a breach in the solar fencing, attracted by overgrown bushes.
As local residents and the forest department burst crackers to drive them back, the elephants panicked and ran helter-skelter. They later stood in a tight group around a puddle of water. Hundreds of migrant labourers, who were on the campus for work, climbed on top of the under-construction building to escape from the elephants.
However, there were no students as the IIT is functioning on the campus of Ahalia Engineering College in Kozhipara and on the nearby 30-acre transit campus, said IIT advisor (administration) K M Unni. The Malampuzha-Kanjikode-Walayar-Madukkarai forest belt has been a traditional elephant corridor and blocking it is forcing the elephants to stray into human habitations.
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“The railway track connecting Palakkad to Coimbatore passes through Walayar forest and as many as 30 wild elephants have died on the stretch in the last two decades after being hit by trains,” said Wild Life Protection Society of India project officer S Guruvaroorappan. The forest area located behind the IIT campus is part of Ayyappan Mala, which is an extension of the Nilgiri biosphere.
It extends from Manjoor in Attappadi to Siruvani and continues to Kovai Kuttrallam waterfalls, he added.
“We had submitted a memorandum to the Railways to shift the track to the outside of the Walayar forest and develop the path parallel to the National Highway. But the Railways is going ahead with the expansion plans. The 40km-long fencing has blocked the corridor and the elephants tend to enter human habitations in an attempt to proceed to their traditional habitat,” said Guruvayoorappan.
“Though the IIT campus is not located in the elephant corridor, it is on the fringe area of Walayar forest. The elephants entered the area attracted by thick vegetation. We were able to drive the herd back into the forest safely within two hours,” said Palakkad DFO Kurra Sreenivas.