Hindol and Bantala forest range in Dhenkanal have lost 15 and 13 persons respectively to wild elephants during the year. File
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

The number of human deaths in encounters with wild elephants in Odisha has increased to 149 during the year 2023-24, recording an all-time high human casualties in the current fiscal.

A woman identified as Ituwari Bhadra was trampled by an elephant in Bonei Forest Division of Sundargarh district on March 7 taking the total human toll to 149 in 249 encounters with elephants. It surpassed the previous record of 148 deaths in 2022-23.  

“In 2019-20, human deaths by elephants rose sharply crossing 100 to reach 115 deaths. Since then, the human fatalities have been on the rise consistently crossing 100 deaths each year reaching an all-time high of 148 in 2022-23,” said Biswajit Mohanty, a wildlife expert and secretary to Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO), an environmental pressure group.  

With another 20 days left for the 2023-24 financial year to end, 149 humans have already died and 122 have sustained injuries in elephant attacks.

Mr. Mohanty pointed out that Odisha was the leading State in losing humans to wild elephants in the country despite having lower elephant population compared to States such as Karnataka, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The 2017 elephant census says, Odisha has 1,976 elephants, compared to Karnataka’s 6,049, Assam’s 5,719, Kerala’s 3,054 and Tamil Nadu’s 2,761.

“Between 2019-20 and 2021-22, 1,579 people were killed in the country by elephants, the Environment Ministry said in the Lok Sabha last year in response to a question. Odisha topped the list with 322 deaths, followed by Jharkhand (291), West Bengal (240), Assam (229), Chhattisgarh (183) and Tamil Nadu (152),” he pointed out.

The WSO analysis says of the 149 human deaths, Dhenkanal, heart of human-elephant conflict, has suffered the most, recording 31 human kills, followed by Angul (24), Sundargarh (22), Keonjhar (18) and Mayurbhanj (10).

Hindol and Bantala forest range in Dhenkanal have lost 15 and 13 persons respectively to wild elephants during the year.

Similarly, 392 elephants have perished in the last five years since 2019-20. As many as 137 of these deaths are termed unnatural. In addition to that the Forest Department could not ascertain the reason behind 94 elephant deaths due to decomposed bodies.

“The Rengali canal network in Angul and Dhenkanal district has disrupted age old movement paths and corridors of the local elephants sparking off rampant attacks on villages and raids on crop fields leading to unfortunate human deaths. There are a few crossing bridges over these canals as a result of which elephants are trapped in small pockets and are forced to climb up steep high incline walls of canals,” Mr. Mohanty said.

The environmentalist further said there has been a 10 times growth in quarries and industries in Dhenkanal as per satellite imagery of 2011 vs 2021 which has strong correlation with the jump in human deaths.

“Another reason behind elephants straying into human habitations was widespread felling of palm trees that provide fodder to elephants in three months of monsoon,” said Mr. Mohanty.

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