Environment Ministry looks to curb elephant deaths on railway tracks, resolve human-jumbo conflict

The Union Environment Ministry will make a fresh push to curb unnatural elephant deaths by taking up track casualties with the Railway Ministry and holding workshops across the country to address human-elephant conflict, sources said.

The decisions were taken at the 17th steering committee meeting of Project Elephant which was held at Periyar National Park in Kerala Friday. The meeting was chaired by Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav.

As per the last count in 2017, India has 29,964 elephants. Yadav said that on an average, 500 people are killed annually by elephants and about 100 elephants are killed in retaliation. “To find a long-term solution, we are revisiting the elephant corridors of the country and have finished more than 50 per cent of the task involving key stakeholders in this endeavour,” he said.

Marking World Elephant Day at an event in Periyar, Yadav Friday also announced the creation of a new elephant reserve. Agasthyamalai in Tamil Nadu will be India’s 32nd elephant reserve and the state’s fifth.

Sources said the steering committee has decided to set up a panel to look into the deaths of elephants in Odisha and Jharkhand and furnish a detailed report to the Centre by September 10.

Odisha has reported 13 cases of unnatural elephant deaths in the past two months, with five deaths caused by poaching. Last year, its Environment Minister, Bikram Keshari Arukh, informed the Assembly that 406 elephants died in the state owing to multiple reasons in the last five years. These deaths were caused by accidents with trains and electrocution, among others. Jharkhand, meanwhile, has historically seen a high level of human-elephant conflict.


An issue of concern

Elephant casualties as a result of unnatural or man-made causes have long been an issue in the country. The human toll is also considerable. According to data furnished by Yadav in Parliament during this Monsoon Session, 1,578 people have died in elephant attacks in the last three years. In the same period, 222 elephants have died from electrocution, 45 in train accidents, 29 from poaching and 11 due to poisoning.

The steering committee has also decided that separate management plans for elephants should be developed and incorporated in management plans of reserves, national parks, sanctuaries and the working plans of territorial divisions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meanwhile, acknowledged World Elephant Day through a series of tweets – “On #WorldElephantDay, reiterating our commitment to protect the elephant. You would be happy to know that India houses about 60% of all Asian elephants. The number of elephant reserves has risen in the last 8 years. I also laud all those involved in protecting elephants,” he said.

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