As forest resources in Odisha rapidly dwindle due to development pressures, distressed and famished elephants are forced to enter villages and cropland in search of food, by crossing major highways. This is intensifying human elephant conflict and causing an unprecedented number of elephant deaths by vehicle collisions. Restoring degraded habitats with favored elephant plant species will provide safe foraging grounds for elephants and prevent them from crossing treacherous roads to find food.
Human-elephant conflict is escalating in Dhenkanal district, with an alarming rise in senseless tragedies, mainly caused by the decimation of prime elephant habitats and a decline in elephant forage species. Consequently, distressed elephants are forced to cross national highways and villages in search of food leading to fatal collisions with speeding vehicles. Some of the factors fuelling the destruction include development, tree felling for timber, and nontimber products collection for humans.
Part of the plan involves the purchase of a 1-acre-plot of land to create a plant nursery and grow 50,000 to 60,000 seedlings of elephant fodder plants, such as Bauhinia vines, jackfruit, and mango. Our site-specific strategy in the Dhenkanal region of Odisha will enable us to nurture and protect saplings from cattle grazing and fire damage for at least two growing seasons. Once the plants mature, we will engage Odisha forest department and local people to plant them in the surrounding forests.
Curbing elephant deaths by growing elephant fodder and planting them inside their habitats could prevent elephants from crossing treacherous highways. It is a proactive rather than a reactive measure to safeguard elephants and mitigate human-elephant conflict. In collaboration with our local partner Wildlife Protection Society of India -WPSI we will engage villagers and the forest department to help cultivate stewardship of elephants and their habitats paving the way to a harmonious coexistence.