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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

‘Kaliru’: Throwing light on the human-elephant conflict that has proved costly for both man and animal

The 18-minute documentary by wildlife enthusiasts Santhosh Krishnan and Jeswin Kingsly provides insights into the behavioural patterns of elephant herds and explores how the human reaction to conflicts woefully fails to take the animals into consideration.

Written by Nithya Pandian | Coimbatore |
Updated: January 16, 2022 7:13:24 am
Kaliru, elephants, documentary, Tamil Nadu, Santhosh Krishnan, Chnennai news, Chnennai, Indian express, Indian express news, Tamil Nadu newsAn elephant walking on the slope, Nilgiris (Photo credits Jeswin Kingsly)

The opening montage of ‘Kaliru’ shows people gathered amid tense moments, an elephant crossing a road in what appears to be sheer panic as a siren is heard blaring, and onlookers hurling live firecrackers at the large animals elsewhere in a bid to scare them away from the vicinity of human settlements. Just as frustration begins to sink in at the tragic plight of the majestic mammals, Nagaraj, a farmer, narrates how a wild elephant attacked him years ago, leading to fractures in his leg, hand and hip. He spent 2.5 years and Rs 25 lakh for the subsequent treatment, after which he resumed farming only to have his crop across 8 acres destroyed by marauding pachyderms. Many other farmers haven’t lived to tell the tale.

The grave issue of human-animal conflict in the Western Ghats seldom receives the attention it truly warrants despite the rising number of such incidents reported with each passing year. It is this very issue that ‘Kaliru’, an 18-minute-long documentary, attempts to encapsulate.

“The reasons behind human-animal conflicts and the behavioural patterns of elephants differ from place to place,” says Santhosh Krishnan, one of the directors of the documentary which focuses on the human elephant conflict in Tamil Nadu.

“Each issue needs a unique, tailored solution to resolve such conflicts. In future, with proper alarm systems, we may be able to reduce human fatalities arising out of such conflicts, but the number of human-animal interactions will only increase. This is what we learned after spending a considerable amount of time in understanding elephants and their herds in the state’s most conflict-prone zones,” the 24-year-old explains.

Kaliru Movie Poster

The extent to which the problem has worsened can be gauged by the fact that as many as 64 elephants and 58 people have died in Tamil Nadu as a result of such conflicts over the last year alone, the film points out.

Besides him, the film ‘Kaliru’ – which means bull elephant in Tamil – was co-created by 28-year-old Jeswin Kingsly, the Head Naturalist at Kipling Camp in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh. The narration is by renowned wildlife photographer and conservationist Belinda Wright.

Elephant calf with its mother in tea estate, Valparai area (Photo credits Santhosh Krishnan)

“Trucks carrying sugarcane to Tamil Nadu from Karnataka bring it via Dhimbam Road, which cuts across Sathyamangalam and Hasanur forests. Recent years have seen a spurt in the number of elephants waiting on either side of the road to grab the sugarcane reeds. A check-post in the area monitors trucks for overloading, among other things, and officials often ask drivers to remove excess sugarcane from the lorries. These end up on the roadside,” Krishnan says over the phone.

“Earlier, elephants used to wait for the discarded reeds, but now their behaviour has shifted to grabbing the sugarcanes from the trucks while the vehicles wait at the check-post for permission. They even stop running trucks to get what they want. Nowadays, these elephants don’t rely much on the forest for food,” he elaborates.

Having completed the field work for the documentary in 2020, Santhosh moved to Bengaluru, while Jeswin returned to Kanha. ‘Kaliru’ has won several awards, including for Best Environment Film at the El Cine Suma Paz International Film Festival, Emerging Talents in Conservation award from Nature Focus, Tagore International Film Festival, and has been officially selected for various upcoming festivals. The young directors, however, are yet to watch the documentary together.

Kingsly says it was a visit to his hometown Coimbatore which led him to work on the film in 2020. “In Mettupalayam, we have a well-known wild elephant, Bahubali. A crop raider, he used to wander around late into the night and once made an unsolicited visit at the gate of our house after having picked the strong scent of some leftover jackfruit my mother had thrown away. Bahubali was just digging for the food but, in a few minutes, a crowd gathered and began shouting at him. The entire area became chaotic,” he recollects. “See, this kind of situation is not good for both ends. One wrong move may lead to unwanted casualties. On the same night, the forest department came to our area and chased Bahubali away into the forest.”

“Elephants straying to the boundaries of forests, entering residential areas and damaging standing crops has become the norm. People crack fireworks, install avuttukai (country bomb) in edible fruits and pelt stones at the elephants in a bid to save their lives, crops and property. The conflict seems never-ending,” Kingsly laments.

“We can differentiate the problems faced by the elephants by understanding their surroundings. In Valparai, the Forest Department successfully developed a mechanism to alert the tea estate labourers and those residing near the Anamalai Tiger Reserve forests about approaching wild elephants, thus reducing casualties arising out of such conflicts over the last decade but,” he continues, “the annual migration of elephants from Kerala has been heavily disturbed since chasing the elephants away into somewhere in the forest makes the herd confused, while fragmentation of forest cover leads to behavioural changes in them. But this type of threat (migration) is not present in the Mettupalayam area. Here, the elephants and people face different issues.”

The film explains that the forest paths that elephant herds traverse aren’t random routes, but ancient migratory trails which the intelligent mammals have mastered over generations.

“In our film, we have covered what is prevailing, without exaggerating the issue. Through ‘Kaliru’, we are expecting changes in people. We want them to learn about the current scenario. We are really hoping this movie will help them understand elephants. In-depth research and scientific solutions may help us, but it should be done before the elephants get accustomed to these issues and change their behavioural patterns,” Krishnan sums it up.

Watch ‘Kaliru’ on YouTube:

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