Bhubaneswar, Dec 4: Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO) in collaboration with Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) and Elephant Family (EF) organised the second Gajah Bandhu Meet at Budha Vihar, Bhubaneswar on the 4th of December’15. “Gajah Bandhu” a network of wildlife volunteers , activists, VSS leaders, honorary wildlife warden was formed last year on 3rd May,2014. Gajah Bandhu has succeeded in bringing focus to the problems and threats to elephants
facing the toughest times in Odisha. The Gajah Bandhu has shared intelligence on elephant poaching and ivory smuggling and alerted authorities on threats to elephants. 28 participants from elephant bearing districts of Sambalpur,
Keonjhar,Sambalpur, Angul, Dhenkanal, Jajpur, Cuttack and Deogarh attended.
HIGH RATE OF ELEPHANT MORTALITY:
During the last 11 months, officially 50 elephants have died in the state out of which 29 cases were found to be “unnatural deaths” and in 5 cases the reasons could not be ascertained. Gajah Bandhu members noted with deep concern these shocking elephant deaths. Despite allocation of crores of rupees of budget for staff and vehicles for elephant protection there has been no visible improvement in safety for elephants. 14 elephants have been killed by poachers in the last 11 months, but not a single culprit has been apprehended till now due to lack of effective intelligence network. The government patted themselves during the wildlife week in October,2015 claiming that they have drastically reduced electrocution deaths, but within just 55 days after that, 10 elephants were electrocuted to death, 5 by sagging electric lines and 5 by live wire traps set by poachers. Gajah Bandhu members noted that forest department has miserably failed to prevent electrocution and has not been able to push the Distoms to strengthen their distribution lines and prevent live traps from being set by poachers.
Though the official elephant death figure stood at 50 in the last 11 months, the Gajah Bandhu members were deeply concerned about the fact that there could be many more deaths which have not been recorded. This is evident from the fact that in 12 of the 50 cases the bodies were in highly decomposed state indicating that patrolling is lax and cases are not revealed until exposed by media. The actual cause of death too are also not revealed as attempts are made in most unnatural death cases to hide facts including the age and sex of the elephants. Gajah Bandhu members were shocked to know that since December’2012, 27 elephants have fallen into open wells in 17 incidents and two adult tuskers lost their lives while many others were injured. Members decided to volunteer to identify such dangerous open wells inform the local forest officials.
The Human Elephant conflict caused by elephant raids on crops and houses was discussed in detailed and it was found that the Compassionate Payment system for loss of crop or life was hopelessly inadequate and the process of payment was extremely unfriendly with ambiguous guidelines. Despite several letters to the forest minister since the last one year, the govenrment has not issued guidelines /clarifications. Though 14 elephants corridors have been identified five years ago ,they were not notfied so far. Members realized that the powerful mining lobby was preventing the legal notification of these elpehant corridors which had been demarcated by the forest department.
Gajah Bandhu members felt that whenever forest department has taken action for dereliction of duties, it has always been of low rung staff while the senior officers have escaped accountability for poor monitoring.The Gajah Bandhu finally concluded that the forest department needs their support and unanimously resolved to support the forest department by regularly sharing information about sagging electric wires, live electric traps and movement of poachers for better
DEMANDS OF GAJAH BANDHU :
1. All 14 identified elephant corridors should be immediately notified by the state government under the Environment (Protection) Act,1986 as sensitive ecological zones (ESZ) to give them legal protection.
2. No post mortem of a dead elephant should be done without presence of at leat two independent observers who should be the honorary wildlife warden and a local wildlife volunteer/activist.
3. The government should issue guidelines for payment of compassionate claims for crop and house damage by elephants after obtaining inputs from all stakeholders.
4. Government should hold senior forest officers accountable for avoidable elephant deaths in their areas and not punish only subordinate staff like forest guards/foresters.
5. Cases should be booked against Executive Engineer/ Managing Director of electricidty distribution companies for allowing sagging lines to kill elephants.
6. All poaching cases should be properly investigated and the culprits identified and jailed.
7. Threats to elephants like open wells and canals should be addressed by appropriate mitigation measures