COIMBATORE: At sunset every day, fear stalks Shamuga Kumar, a farmer in Arumuga Goundanur village abutting the Western Ghats. It is just a few weeks since a herd of elephants entered his farm and destroyed tomato crop in half acres, ready for harvest.
“I was hoping for a bumper crop and expected good returns in the market. The solar fence proved to be of no use,” he says and puts the loss at `30,000.
It is the plight of hundreds of farmers in the villages along the foothills as acute water crisis forces the wild animals to stray out in search of water and fodder. Since the beginning of this summer, more than ten such instances have been reported and the worst hit are Sethumadai, Saralappathy and Thammampathi villages. Recently, a herd of nine jumbos came close to a residential area at aruthamalai.
“Use of borewells by resorts and other commercial entities is rampant in the forest fringes in Coimbatore, Nilgiris and Erode districts. Yet, there are no studies on the adverse impact. Hence, the forest department should carry out a study,” said environmentalist cum wildlife activist Kalidass, founder of Osai, an NGO.
“During summer, even small streams inside the forests go dry and animals move out. Forest department should have put up enough water troughs and ensure they are filled up frequently. Except the small animals, the big ones such as elephants, sloth bear, sambar deer and gaurs depend upon the water troughs. “Cattle grazing should be banned at Bhavani sagar dam in Erode district during summer as hundreds of wild elephants come there to drink water,” he said.
Another city-based wildlife activist, K Mohanraj, alleged that forest department officials could have misused the funds sanctioned for managing the summer by setting up water troughs besides other measures.
Apart from the water crisis forest fire and attendant loss of green cover are also driving away animals from their habitat.
However, officials of Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) and Coimbatore forest department are yet to close the sanctuary for tourists as a preventive measure.
“We have appointed additional 25 fire watchers this summer to tackle the situation and solar powered borewells have been set up to supply water to the nearby troughs regularly,” said a forest official. Coimbatore had received total of 447 mm rainfall in the two monsoons last year. In the South West monsoon it was 146 mm rainfall as against the expected 210 mm and in the North East monsoon it was 301 mm rainfall as against the expected 305 mm.