ROURKELA: Residents of villages in Sundargarh district are living in fear as elephants, in search of food, have reportedly claimed three lives in the past four days, bringing the total number of human deaths to 18 in the past 11 months. The ongoing paddy harvesting season has escalated the human-elephant conflict, with incidents reported across various forest divisions.
On November 29, Hiralal Behera (25) was killed by a wild elephant while attempting to protect his standing crops near Gargarbahal village in Bargaon range. The following evening, Mangri Munda (58) lost her life when a wild elephant attacked her house at Bhaluadihi in Patmunda under the Koida range. Additionally, the death of a woman in a suspected elephant attack inside the Satabhaya forest of Birmitrapur range on November 29 is pending confirmation with the autopsy report.
Bonai Forest Division (BFD) has witnessed 10 confirmed human deaths this year, along with substantial crop and property damages, amounting to crop loss compensation of Rs 1.70 crore and Rs 3.89 crore compensation towards house damage over the past five years. Bonai divisional forest officer (DFO) Lalit Kumar Patra assured that all possible efforts are being made to protect lives and property. The BFD faces challenges as it shares forest borders with Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district and Odisha’s Keonjhar, Deogarh, Sambalpur and Rourkela forest divisions.
Sundargarh Forest Division (SFD) is the second most affected, with at least five deaths reported in the past 11 months, including three in the Bargaon range alone. Rourkela Forest Division (RFD) has experienced a visible drop in human deaths in elephant depredation incidents this year.
Three human deaths in elephant attacks have been confirmed compared to 10 deaths in 2022, adding the loss of crops and property, too, have drastically reduced, said Rourkela Assistant Conservator of forests (ACF) SR Gochhayat. Poor villagers in BFD and SFD areas said their mud houses provide little safety against elephant raids.