Human-Elephant Conflict Mitigating Measures in the Coimbatore Forest Division
Tamil Nadu, India (May 2005)
Principal Investigators: Mr. A. Durairasu, I.F.S. and Dr. B. Ramakrishnan
Funded by: Coimbatore Forest Department, Tamil Nadu Forest Department.This study was carried between January and April 2005 and the objectives of the project were to:
a) Identify various mitigating measures being adopted by the local people
b) Evaluate the effectiveness of the mitigating measures
c) Determine the reasons for human-elephant conflicts
d) Suggest management recommendations for long-term conservation of elephants in this region, which is subjected to severe human-elephant conflict
During the present investigation, all the forest ranges of the Coimbatore Forest Division were covered to address the human-elephant conflict. The Coimbatore Forest Division falls under the Elephant Reserve No. 8, in which Nilambur-Silent Valley of Kerala forms the major portion of the tract and the division is included in the Project Elephant Perspective Plan of the Tamil Nadu State Forest Department.
A questionnaire survey was used to identify various human-elephant conflict mitigating measures deployed by the local people. 529 people were interviewed during the present investigation. The questionnaire was designed to evaluate factors such as frequency of elephant visits, type of mitigating measures being adopted by the farmers. 222 farmers having electric fences (both solar power fence and AC charged battery fences) and 78 farmers without fencing were interviewed to identify various human-elephant conflict mitigating measures.
Effectiveness of electric fences
Effectiveness of electric fences against frequency of elephant visits to the crop fields, include solar power fence and AC charged battery fence in relation with maintenance, height of the fence, thickness of wire, post mounting type, post protection and manufacturers was collected using questionnaire method. Totally 300 farmers were interviewed in six forest ranges of the study area, of which 206 farmers were using AC charged fences, 16 were solar powered fences. Apart from the physical barriers, 78 farmers were using conventional methods such as psychological barriers to elephants.
Questionnaire method was used to assess the reason for elephant visits towards the agricultural fields. The variables such as distance between the ecological requirements to elephants (perennial water sources and natural saltlicks) and forest boundary, water utilization for irrigation and cropping pattern were also collected to conclude reason for crop damage by elephants.
The major tools used by locals are shouting in groups, guarding the fields from tree top, bursting crackers, and burning fires in agriculture fields.
The study revealed that the local communities are going for battery-operated electric fences over others because of its cost effectiveness. It is also possible that more number of battery-operated fences are often erected by people because of its local marketing in and around the Coimbatore District. Among the forest ranges of the Coimbatore Forest Division, Sirumugai range has more number of solar power fences and battery-charged electric fences.
The increasing concept of solar power fence has attracted many farm owners and in many cases they themselves have found new simplified technologies for protecting the crops using the concept of battery-operated fence with low cost. This is the basic reason for the animals getting electrocuted by the power fences in the absence of not realizing the value of the species and the rigidity of the forest laws.
It is possible to conclude that the tracts of elephant corridors are highly significant not only to this division but also for regional conservation in South India. The evidence of elephant dung piles and feeding signs in study sites during the dry season coincide with the migrating season of elephants in the adjoining forest division of Sathyamangalam. This could be also one of the factors for more occurrences of crop damages by elephants.
It is concluded that the AC charged battery fences are mostly used by the villagers to guard their crops and it is true that this low standard technology could be the possible reason for more electrocution of elephants in this division. The more battery-operated fences and solar power fences in the Sirumugai Range made elephants to attack crops more and the possible reasons are the locals preference to sugarcane and banana all along the fringes of traditional home range of elephants.
It appears that the animals migrating through this corridor are not much experienced with the solar power fence to make a risk of raiding crops and this could be the factor for animals avoiding the crops guarded with solar power fences. It is also possible that all the animals are not crop raiders in this division and this could be the reason for variation in elephant’s visit to the crops.
The inverse relationship between extent of elephant’s visit to the crop fields and the availability of natural salt licks away in the forest region shows that occurrence of natural salt could be the influencing factor for the elephant population getting attracted to crops adjoining the jungle corridors.
The attack of crops by elephants more in the forest ranges of the Sirumugai and Mettupalayam during the study period could be related to the annual movement of elephants between the Nilgiri Eastern Slope Reserve Forests and the Coimbatore Forest Division. The forest ranges of Sirumugai, Mettupalayam and Coimbatore are located in the migratory tract of elephants in the Coimbatore Forest Division, and hence, these locations of cultivation on the periphery could be a major factor for their being prone to damages by elephants without any physical barriers for crop guarding.
The study clearly showed that the availability of crops inside the fence could be the deciding factor for the extent of elephants visiting inside the crop fields.
The competition and risk-involvement factors of animals getting into crop fields were seen in this study. This allowed us to conclude that good quality fences made to protect the cash crops of sugarcane and banana for long duration of period did not suffer from the elephants attack.
The visibility and thickness of wire gauges, the capping techniques in the fence line, and other technological improvement of solar fences have fine tuned the reduction of crop damages by elephants and role of those factors were visibly seen in the field irrespective of ranges.
There was a relationship between the type of energizer used in the fence and its influence on the number of attacks by elephants. Nevertheless, the sample size is too small to conclude the rate of success of the energizer company as part of fence efficiency to control the system as a whole to prevent crop damage by wild animals. It was found that the low contact of elephants with the energizer of M/S Ibex Gallagher Company is largely due their professional development in fence technology, keeping in mind the behaviour of animals towards fences.
The result clearly showed that either conventional method or mechanical/electrical method alone did not protect the crops and the combination of the both could yield better result in minimizing the crop damages by elephants. The study also concluded that any superior quality of solar power fences with all safety standards including alarm system is always the best method than the time consuming traditional methods deployed by locals to protect the agriculture crops from wild animals, especially the elephants.
The loss of elephants by electrocution in the villages is perhaps related to promoting cash crops in their field using inferior quality of solar fence and also due to AC charged battery fences of low standards. The high magnitude of crop loss although witnessed in the tribal settlement areas, no cases of electrocutions of elephants ever happened because of their cultivation of seasonal crops to meet their sustenance.