Elephants Are Given The Right Of Passage!
"It looked like a battlefield". Coconut palms hanging at a tilt. Prostrate jack fruit trees with gashes in the trunk as if someone had repeatedly stabbed them, with exposed roots clawing the air in fright. A heap of branches mixed with mud where a coffee plantation seemed to have once stood. And a criss-cross of hoof marks, foot prints, molds of elephant dung and deep depressions in the paddy fields where elephants & wild boar had wallowed. They all sent a clear message: "This is our home and trespassers will be suitably dealt with."
It was just two weeks since the Thirulakunnu "human" settlement in the proposed Tirunelli-Kudrekote elephant corridor had been relocated. To everyone's pleasure and surprise, wildlife was already moving in as if quickly reclaiming something that was rightfully theirs!
The people had moved after being provided alternative land and houses by IFAW's partner the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) with support from the Wild Lands Trust of UK and IUCN Netherlands Committee. The land is now being used not only by elephants, but also by other animals such as gaur, sambar and wild boar. Some of the taller trees adjacent to the paddy fields still have observation posts, which were once used as watch towers to scare away animals in the night.
Across the paddy field the last house of the settlers is still there as the people were transporting their luggage to the new settlement. Sabu, WTI's senior field officer, says the house will be demolished within a few days and then the little stream flowing near the house will be taken over by wild animals as the summer is at the peak.
For generations, a large portion of the land was used by the settlers for cultivation of paddy and vegetables, since water was available even in summer. As the surrounding areas are thickly forested, conflicts with wild herbivores were a part of life. However, as the human population expanded and "encroachments" on the forest land increased, more and more wild animals came down to the agricultural fields to claim a free lunch.
Studies conducted in the past by elephant experts strongly favored relocation of villages to facilitate free movement of animals in the corridor, which would minimize conflicts. This was the first settlement to be relocated and we were back there to see the results.
"Before, animals were prevented from traveling through by trenches, electric fences, walls and fire crackers, which of course were mild deterrents. But today these are no longer and the animals are completely free," says Sabu.