The Future of Elephants in Northern Andhra Pradesh is Uncertain

“For loss of crop of Rs. 15,000 per acre, we get only Rs. 6,000 in compensation from the forest department. That money is of no use to us. We have suffered huge property damage and loss of life. We want the elephants to be removed from our village,” said Gundamma, a farmer from Parvathipuram in northern Andhra Pradesh’s Vizianagaram district. People of the Vizianagaram district of northern Andhra Pradesh are facing loss of property and loss of life after a close encounter with elephants. A herd of elephants, probably displaced from Odisha, moved south to border villages like Parvatipuram in Andhra Pradesh. In the last four years, seven people and six elephants have lost their lives in negative interactions.

Trinadha Rao, Range Officer, Parvathipuram, said, “When we first saw the presence of elephants in the area in 2008, I was the officer at Pathapatnam in Srikakulam district bordering Odisha. We sent them back to the Lakhari Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Odisha. In Srikakulam, it was easy to manage the herd which has now settled in Parvathipuram.” In Parvathipuram, the forest department is grappling with the problem of wild herds of elephants attacking crops and damaging property. “There is a railway track which passes through the district. Down there are power cords, open transformer boxes, and intolerant people who have been a source of great danger to the elephants and conflict in the region,” Trinadha Rao added further.

What Is The Reason For The Displacement?

Of the more than 1,900 elephants in Odisha, half are outside the protected area network. Along with this comes the threat of human-elephant conflict, which is a major concern for the state. Odisha is part of the Central Indian Elephant Habitat, which is one of the most fragmented and degraded habitats due to encroachment, shifting farming and mining activities, states the Wildlife Trust of India’s Right of Passage. The northern part of Odisha has the largest number of iron ore, manganese and chromate mines. In the southern part, about nine percent of the total forest area is under jhum cultivation.

“There are internal and external pressures that affect the elephant population. The internal stress is developmental projects, construction of roads, dams, hydroelectric projects. External pressures include an increase in the human population and expansion of land for agriculture. Ultimately, elephants get squeezed in all of this,” said Anand Kumar, an expert on human-elephant conflict and the behavior of Asian elephants in human-dominated landscapes at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF). He added, “On average, the home range of elephants depends on the pressure in that area. The minimum forest area required for an elephant is 700-sq km. However, studies have proved that the domestic range of male elephants is higher than that of females.”

As of the 2011 India census, Vizianagaram district in northern Andhra Pradesh has medium deciduous forest cover as well as shrubby forest with a human population of 18,53,563. Vizianagaram, where the elephants have migrated, is divided into eastern and western zones, with a state highway passing through Parvathipuram, the Nagavali river running parallel to the highway, and a railway line passing through Parvathipuram. According to Project Elephant Report 1992 and WTI’s Right of Passage Report, there is no recognized migratory route for elephants or a continuous forest patch. In addition, the revival of the Thotapally barrage at Parvathipuram in 2015 has increased the irrigation potential in Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts from 64,000 acres at present to 120,000 acres. To accommodate this project, the Andhra Pradesh government undertook human rehabilitation.

On the outskirts of Parvathipuram, new villages such as Seemanaiduvalasa, Gijaba, Nandivanivalasa, and Nimmalapadu were established around barrages and railway tracks, leading to an economic boom in the area. The economy of Vizianagaram is largely dependent on agriculture. Due to better availability of water, farmers did not have to depend only on rainfall to grow their crops. This led to the expansion of agricultural land around the border districts. Farmers mainly grow crops like tomatoes, sugarcane, maize, rice, and banana plantations.

“Elephants spend 70 to 75 percent of their time eating. They prefer to live in a covered forest canopy. Low availability of food and disturbance in their habitat force them to move from one place to another,” said Sandeep Tiwari, Program Manager, IUCN SSC (International Union for Conservation of Nature Species), Asian Elephant Expert Group. “The herds that migrated to Parvathipuram may have taken refuge in hills and banana plantations as they mimic the natural habitat of a full forest cover.” he added. Parvathipuram range officer Trinadha Rao said food is plentiful for the elephants in Parvathipuram. They also have an abandoned swamp formed by barrage-stopped backwaters as a water resource behind the hill.

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