Seven young elephants have strayed into Andhra Pradesh from a reserve forest in Odisha and are showing no signs of going back. They are busy polishing off ripe mangoes and cashew in the tribal villages of Srikakulam district. According to Andhra forest officials, the wild elephants — four calves, two males and one female — walked across the river bed of Mahendra Tanaya from Tumbakota Reserve Forest near the Odisha border on May 5 night and entered Andhra Pradesh near Kasibugga tribal village the next morning.
The elephants initially grazed on grass, but in the afternoon they devoured banana growing on half an acre in Gowdiguranti village. The herd then moved on to Kaushalyameta village, where it polished off two acres of tender bamboo that had been planted as part of a social forestry project two years. Then they moved on to ripe mangoes in a farm and cashew growing on the edge of three villages.
“The trees are full of ripe mangos. They ate every mango. The calves fed on the cashew. They are just 1-2 km from the Odisha border, but are in no mood to go back,’’ Divisional Forest Officer (Srikakulam) C Shati Swaroop told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, the herd is giving the tribals and forest officers sleepless nights, as several crops including ragi, banana, mango and cashew are ripe for harvest in the Mandasa and Sompeta mandals. Officials said that as the elephants usually move between 4 pm and 8 am, they are keeping a watch on them since May 6, hoping they would return to the reserve forest.
Forest officials have advised villagers to stay away and not harm the elephants, but scores of tribals have been following the elephants. The calves have become the cynosure of all eyes.
“People threw flowers at them, some women brought jasmine and wild flower garlands. In spite of repeated appeals, people kept following them. We had to call police and revenue officials to restrain them. If the herd panics and bolts in different directions, it will be difficult to track them. And they trample on anyone when they are frightened or disturbed,’’ a Range Forest Officer of Srikakulam said.
While the elephants have not charged at people or attacked anyone, the presence of calves has made the adults uneasy and protective. At some places, tribals and villagers have tried to scare the elephants away by beating drums, but the herd was not moved. As of May 9 evening, the herd had settled down beside a small lake in Badambo area near a mango orchard.
Forest officials said the elephants may be part of a larger herd that strayed into Andhra in search of food and water.
“The Odisha border and reserve forest is just half a kilometre away. We are hoping they will go back to Odisha tonight. There is water in the nearby Kalingadal reservoir, which might attract them. They could cross over from there,’’ DFO Swaroop said.