Elephants: Facing Hoola, Fire Bombs, Spikes, and Trains

This year, elephants walked in headlines, and court rooms.

It’s been a year of elephantine tragedies, with several gruesome pachyderm deaths. Seven elephants were electrocuted in Dhenkenal, Odisha, in October because of sagging electric lines. While NGOs had asked for lines to be tightened, no action had been taken. In November, two more elephants were electrocuted in Nagaland. Four elephants were killed in Jharsaguda, Odisha because of a train speeding through an elephant corridor. Forest department officials said though they had requested trains to slower through the area, the Railways do not cooperate. The forest department repeated that the railways was not listening to them in November, as yet another elephant was killed by a train—this time an empty goods train– in Keonjhar.

The National Green Tribunal, meanwhile, took cognisance of the Dhenkenal electrocution, slapping a Rupees 4 crore fine on the Central Electrical Supply Undertaking for negligence.

Elephants being chased by fire in Bankura, West Bengal. The calf screams. Photo: Biplab Hazra/ Sanctuary Asia.

In West Bengal meanwhile, human conflict with elephants has literally reached a burning climax. The state has been involved in tenders for hoola—fire bombs or fire torches, thrown at elephants to chase them away. The Supreme Court expressed surprise over this practice and for the moment has said tenders for fire torches should not be processed by West Bengal. Meanwhile, elephant corridors and habitats are being increasingly fenced. Karnataka had put up huge fences, covered in spikes to impede elephant movement.

The Supreme Court had earlier this year directed Karnataka to remove the spikes. It is however evident that fences in areas frequented by elephants don’t need spikes to kill then. In December, an elephant was found impaled on a fence near Nagarhole, a protected area in Karnataka. A committee set up to look at elephant deaths in Karnataka has not met in months.

The answer to widespread violence and conflict, with both elephant and human casualties– is in proactive habitat planning; and not just fencing out elephants. Elephants need a steady supply of food; and lions, elephants and other wildlife need watchers, sensors and greater accountability from the Railways.

It seems our National Heritage Animal has been pitifully reduced to the National Pest Animal.

At the pace we are going, it seems our National Heritage Animal has been pitifully reduced to the National Pest Animal.

Image: an elephant crosses a railway line in West Bengal’s Alipurduar district. Photo: Locha Deb/ Sanctuary Asia. The two images included in this piece won Samctuary photography awards for depicting a reality that is gory but still not fully understood.

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