On 30th August, Keystone organized a meeting to discuss the prolonging habitat conflict between humans and elephants in the Coimbatore forest range. The meeting took place at Tamil Nadu Forest college campus, Coimbatore. Though the meeting was announced on a short notice, many stakeholders took part in it.

Forest Department officials – Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF), Forest rangers etc; Farmers from Thadagam range, Madhukarai range, Karamadai range were present, including members from various NGO’s that have been working on mitigating human-wildlife conflicts attended the meeting. It envisaged bringing out solutions and suggestions to abate the growing tension between farmers and elephants.

The CCF while speaking at the meeting agreed to the fact that elephants have been causing severe crop damage. He ensured the farmers that the Forest Department (FD) has been paying heed to the matter. ‘Since 2013-17, eight and a half crores have been given out as compensation” he said. Many farmers who took part in the meeting acknowledge the interventions by the department but are exhausted by having to deal with the continuous losses caused by the animal and are looking for a long-term solution.

The farmers had raised the concern about the process to obtain compensation as very long, due to this they are not willing to spend time doing it. The Forest Department advised the farmers to submit appropriate records for scrutiny as those documents are decisive. ‘It is not easy to just look at pictures and decipher cost of losses’ said an official. The farmers feel that the compensation does not really substitute the loss; a farmer from the thandagam range said “More than the money, a lot of time is invested in farming. When an elephant just walks through the farm it causes heavy damage to the crops”.

Elephants usually raid farmlands in search of food and water. The change in the cropping pattern and increase in the number of borewells could’ve depleted the ground-water, this might have lured these animals to the farms located at the edge of the forest believes Ramkumar (Professor at the Udhgamandalam Govt. arts college).

Elephants are animals that are known for their intelligence. Farmers use electric fence, crackers, and other means to chase the elephants, but these methods only agitate the animals and are not the best solutions. Selvaraj a farmer from Karamadai range explained the huge losses he had to bear due to elephant crop raiding incidents, nowadays he works closely with the Forest Department in helping them monitor and drives away the animal from other farms. He says, “Unless you let the elephant eat for at least ten minutes, it is not going to move away, that is when they charge if they are disturbed”.

Tash from Shola Trust, Gudalur gave a visual presentation on elephants that stray into the town. He explained how they have done a profiling of the elephants of Gudalur that stray into human spaces. This has helped them understand the behavior of the animal even better. He said, “Some of them often come into the town but hardly cause any damage”.  He suggested that a similar profiling method can be done in the Coimbatore ranges as well. Besides that, other suggestions were to involve more local volunteers as the existing number of guards has a large area to monitor.

It was decided that a follow-up meeting will be held in October this year. As the prevailing problems were laid down this time, the next one will focus on implementing improved interventions.