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The elephant and the jackfruit
| June 15, 2018
Wild Seve, a novel initiative set up to speed up and ensure compensation reaches the affected families, is helping bring some amount of harmony amidst human wildlife conflicts.
Chennegowda leads the way through a narrow, labyrinthine path that winds and curls past little houses with gardens and backyards. Every time it looks as though you have reached the destination, the path veers capriciously to the left or right, opening up more homes, more gardens and backyards. The houses are neat, with small verandahs, and discreetly fenced in by cane overgrown with creepers. Chickens slip in and out of the foliage. Young trees planted along the path form lush green arbors above. Chennegowda’s village of Thimmanahosahally is unlike any. It is also inside the Nagarahole National Park.
Soon we reach Chennegowda’s house. He climbs a ladder and takes off a blue tarpaulin covering a portion of the roof to reveal a gaping hole. The reason? A tusker. Although there have been incidents of crop and property damage in the settlements nearby (and there are a few in this area), this is the first case of property damage by elephants, he says. He has been referred to Wild Seve by the forest department.
A young boy wheels a tyre through the narrow lanes of Thimmanahosahally © Priyadarshini/CWS
A toll free helpline
was set up in 2015 pursuant to research led by Dr. Krithi Karanth around multiple reserves in India which revealed that while majority families living around the parks encountered conflict situations, less than one-third filed and received compensation from the government. Compensation for loss or damage by wildlife, including injury to person or death, is offered by many state governments including Karnataka as an immediate measure of conflict mitigation. Wild Seve assists the affected families by responding to their calls (which are directed to a toll free helpline) within 24 hours and supporting them through the entire process of applying for and seeking compensation. This includes documenting the damage, verifying claims and claimant’s ownership of the property or land in question, and filing the claims with the forest department. Consequently, Wild Seve also ends up rendering support to an often under-staffed forest department that is unable to address the number of claims or the minutiae of the process.
Trained field agents, picked mostly from the villages themselves, provide the assistance. They also, once the claim is filed, diligently follow up with the government till the compensation is actually received by the families. Wild Seve currently supports hundreds of villages around Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks. Given the project’s success – it has answered over 9000 calls, and assisted more than 5000 families in availing over a crore in compensation till date – it may serve as a model for other parks and reserves too.
For the love of jackfruit
Chennegowda narrates the incident behind the hole in his roof while we wait for the department’s representative. Recently, a rule was introduced requiring a forest official’s presence in the photographic evidence of loss or damage. Wild Seve staff keeps track of all such rules which vary and change from range to range. This considerably reduces the time taken to file claims and thereby, the transaction and opportunity costs for affected families.
The damaged roof of Chennegowda’s house © Priyadarshini/CWS
The previous night, Chennegowda woke up to noises and climbed the roof to locate its source. He spied an elephant feasting on jackfruit in his neighbour’s field a few metres away. Soon, his neighbor woke too and gave chase to the animal. The elephant made a beeline to the forest behind Chennegowda’s property but just as it lumbered past his house, a dog barked. A visibly shaken Chennegowda is unclear on the subsequent events except that he somehow found himself, with three terrified daughters, inside the very room whose roof was being dispensed with by the elephant. Curiously, it also left behind a rather large jackfruit among the rubble on the ground.
More puzzling were the two elephants that entered Veluswamy’s fields several kilometers away in the village of Bankahally near the Bandipur National Park. By the time they were discovered, there was no sign of the one quintal ripe jackfruit he claims his trees sported. Unlike scenes of damage like Chennegowda’s roof, this job was elegantly carried out and there was not a single trace of the fruit! You could be forgiven for asking if there had been any elephants at all. Or any jackfruits for that matter! In fact, situations do arise where the Wild Seve staff find themselves calling out dubious claims.
Veluswamy is unfazed when questioned. Two years ago, he woke up in the middle of the night and opened his front door, only to confront a rather large trunk sniffing surreptitiously through bags of jackfruit peel he had stowed away in his porch to feed the cows. Elephants love jackfruit, he asserts, sagely. Indeed, the elephant’s love for jackfruit is legendary. So much so, it was reported that planters in Coorg district of Karnataka had dumped their entire harvest to prevent the giants with the sweet tooth from entering their plantations. More recently, the forest department in Tamil Nadu had requested residents and shop-keepers in the forest fringes to stop storing or selling the fruit.
The elephants did a far less elegant job with Veluswamy’s mango trees. He claims a loss of 2 quintals of mangoes © Ghanshyam/CWS
From conflict to compensation to co-existence
Veluswamy has approached Wild Seve for 8 cases of crop loss and property damage, and has received compensation of Rs. 1620 in one case so far. He has suffered repeated losses in the past, mainly from wild pigs and elephants. He even abandoned beekeeping after a hungry bear dispatched 20 of his 24 beehive boxes. He finds Wild Seve helpful, especially the promptness with which calls are answered. He also says the process was unpredictable before; not every claim resulted in compensation as the forest department was “not strict”. His neighbours Rajendra and Srinivas chime in adding that often, compensation was sanctioned on the basis of a broad estimation across several claims and thus, had nothing to do with actual damage.
Claimants therefore received less than deserved amounts or undeserved claims slipped through. Also, sometimes, compensation depended on relationship with the department, they say. With Wild Seve, there is accountability as a claim is registered every time an RTC is produced, says Veluswamy.
However, the efforts of the forest department in dealing with human wildlife conflicts is visible throughout the landscape as also in their cooperation with the staff of Wild Seve.
The river Kabini forms a lifeline for the villages including Thimmanahosahally. The forest is clearly visible in this picture, right behind the coconut plantation © Priyadarshini/CWS
Living in and around national parks and wildlife reserves entails sharing space and resources with wildlife. Chennegowda’s mother remembers the deer, wild pigs, elephants and other animals that have visited her home over the years. It is a hard life. The animals fed on the ragi, jowar, paddy and vegetables they grew, often leaving little for their family. That, coupled with declining rainfall in recent years has forced Chennegowda to confine himself to paddy and work in nearby Kerala as a daily wage labourer during non-farming season for survival.
For Veluswamy, switching to commercial crops like banana and jackfruit from ragi and jowar has meant greater cost from such conflicts. You grow and nurture these trees for ten or twelve years and the elephants don’t even take an hour to destroy them, he exclaims, upset. Yet, he asserts – we don’t want to kill them; we only want such incidents to be prevented.
Compensation offers at least a partial relief to families like Chennegowda’s and Veluswamy’s. Wild Seve bridges the gap between such affected families and an overwhelmed department to ensure compensation is received by the families. And in doing so, Wild Seve enables humans and wildlife to coexist in relative harmony despite the inevitable conflicts.
Written by Priyadarshini