AN ELEPHANT who knocked down six villagers, killing two of them, in Bankura district in the past two weeks has been dubbed “killer” by the state forest department which has assigned a team of two hunters to “exterminate” the animal. Somnath Mukherjee, deputy conservator of forests, confirmed that “the order to exterminate the rogue animal has been issued.”
A migrating herd of 72 wild elephants from the Dalma have entered the Bankura forests in the past few months and split into two groups, officials informed. The resulting conflict isn’t limited to just human casualties with five elephants dying from electrocution in January. Most recently, an adult tusker was electrocuted in Lalbazar under Barjora forest range on January 30 when it’s trunk touched a high-tension electric wire.
On February 3, the “killer” elephant had attacked Gopal Lohar (72) at Ramharipur jungle while Ashish Mondal (26) died after being attacked by the elephant in Kukrajhar village, officials said, and added that Mondal’s friend Hanuman also suffered injuries and is battling for life at the Bankura Sammiloni Medical College and Hospital.
In a separate incident in February, which the forest department believes is also linked to the same elephant, the dead body of Ashish Mondal (27) was found near a pond at Kanchanpur beat. An elephant had been spotted at the scene of crime.
Pinaki Mitra, DFO, Bankura (North) said the hunt for the rogue elephant began soon after the order was given on Wednesday by chief conservator of forests, Pradip Shukhla. Two hunters – Ritesh Chakraborty and Rajkumar Mukherjee – have been hired by the department for this purpose.
At the heart of this conflict lies the Dalpani Kankrajhor elephant corridor, documented after a four-year-long survey, ‘Right of Passage’ published by the Wildlife Trust of India in association with the Union government’s National Elephant Corridor Project documented elephant corridors in the country. The survey found that Bengal has the maximum human population along with the highest degradation and fragmentation of forest, leading inevitably to extremely high numbers of man-elephant conflict. The survey said the corridor that elephants use to enter Bankura from Dalma is “threatened by expansion of agricultural land near Amlasol and nearby villages”.
The survey noted: “This is the most frequently used elephant route. Every year elephants from Dalma pass through various degraded forest patches and enter the Kankrajhor Reserve Forest from where they move to Bankura and Purulia. They enter Kankrajhor near Amlasol village.”
Forest department officers said in the past 11 days alone, the rogue tusker attacked six villagers. “Prima facie it appears to be a young bull who recently entered adulthood. His tusks are smaller than others. It has an injury to his ear which causes him excruciating pain and is the reason for the unusually high level of aggression,” an official informed.
“After an unsuccessful first day, the two hunters set out looking for the rogue animal in Gangajalghanti and it’s adjoining Barjora Forest areas early Saturday morning. But they’re yet to find the animal,” said another official Saturday evening.
Officials admitted that the unusually prompt decision to dub the animal as “killer” and the order for his death was linked to a similar case in November 2015, when another elephant had killed four people in Bishnupur, Bankadaha and Sonamukhi range in Bankura. “The animal was unsuccessfully tracked for four days and the killing stopped only after the herd was pushed away by another herd from Dalma ranges in Jharkhand,” an official said.
But in spite of the rapidly escalating man-elephant conflict in Bankura, the threats documented by the survey in 2004 continue to worsen and forest department officials said little work had been done to relocate villages in the area, as had been suggested by the 2004 study.
“The survey had suggested the declaration and legal protection of the corridor while seeking alternatives for Amlasol and Makali villages. But with rise in population, most of the land in what were once forests have been converted into fields as a result of which the deaths – of both human and animal – have also increased,” admitted an official.