Charging elephant
© GettyCharging elephant
The man- elephant conflict in Odisha seems to be worsening by the day with a district in Odisha on Friday declaring shutting down of about 600 schools in a mineral-rich district after a stray tusker killed 2 persons on Thursday evening.

Jajpur district education officer Krushna Chandra Nayak said the district administration ordered closure of more than 600 schools in Korei, Danagadi and Sukinda blocks as a precautionary measure after the tusker killed 2 persons on Thursday evening. "The elephant is hiding in a forested area somewhere close to Jajpur town. We do not want to take any chances with the safety of the school children and thus ordered one day shutdown. This could be the first time that so many schools were shut down in the district due to elephant attack," said Nayak.

Odisha forest and wildlife officials said the 10-year-old tusker that strayed from a herd from Keonjhar district few days ago had gone on a rampage through Korei block of chromote-rich Jajpur district on Thursday evening. As the agitated villagers tried to drive it away lighting torches and bursting firecrackers, the tusker ran into Sankachila village where it tossed 62-year-old Chintamani Ram and trampled upon the head of 55-year-old Iswar Das, both of them snacks sellers from a nearby village. Both of them immediately died. At least 10 other villagers were also injured in the stampede as the elephant rampaged through.

"The elephant was probably driven out of its herd and experienced great stress. Five days ago it had killed a 56-year-old tribal man and injured 2 minor girls in a village under Tamaka forest range of Jajpur. It then staggered to other blocks of Jajpur in search of fodder. The elephant may have gone away quietly without causing much damage had the people not tried to scare it off using firecrackers and kerosene torches," said Cuttack divisional forest officer Sudarshan Patra.

The DFO said a team of 70 forest officials are on the job trying to tranquilise the tusker.

A week ago, officials in Angul district, another district witnessing intense man-elephant conflict, had managed to tranquilise a tusker that killed six persons over last six months and injured more than two dozen persons apart from causing mass destruction of paddy crop.

The shutting down of schools due to menace of wild elephants has come at a time when the human casualty due to man-elephant conflict has reached an all-time high of 102 in 2019-20, compared to last year's deathtoll of 93. While the number of elephant deaths stood at 60, the increasing human casualty is worrying the wildlife officials. Two days ago, two elderly persons were trampled to death and one injured after a wild elephant strayed into a village of Khurda district in search of food.

While people in the conflict zone are irked over rising human casualty demanding plans to keep pachyderms away from human habitation, wildlife conservationists said Odisha government should officially notify elephant corridors allowing them easy access. Though 14 elephant corridors were officially identified by the Odisha government in January 2010 covering over 870 sq km, these corridors are yet to be notified under under Environment (Protection) Act 1986 as Ecologically Sensitive Zones under pressure from mining lobby," alleged leading wildlife conservationist Biswajit Mohanty.

Odisha chief wildlife warden Hari Shankar Upadhyay said it would be difficult to stop the elephant depradations altogether as they would come searching for food. "We have to start awareness campaigns among people not to block the movement of the animals and not cause undue stress. In most of the cases, the deaths have occured where people have blocked their paths," he said.

The chief wildlife warden said his department has suggested the agriculture department to ask farmers grow rice of long-awned varieties that would deter the elephants from attacking these paddy crops. "There is a belief that elephants do not relish long-awned rice as they sting to their tongues and give them severe pain and irritation. Hence growing long-awned rice varieties in the elephant depredation areas may prevent the crop from animal attack. The National Rice Research Institute in Cuttack has given us a list of 25 long-awned rice genotypes from its rice bank for growing in areas where elephant menace is rampant. We hope these types of paddy would prevent the elephants from attacking the paddy crop and reduce man-elephant conflict," said Upadhyay.