A jumbo threat to coffee estates in Karnataka

Vishwanath Kulkarni | | Updated on: Aug 17, 2022
An elephant in a coffee estate

An elephant in a coffee estate

Elephants have caused death of 25 humans over the past six months in Kodagu, Chikkaamagaluru, Hassan

Rising incidences of wild elephants straying into coffee estates in the key growing regions of Karnataka are compounding the woes of growers, who have already been battered by excess and heavy monsoon spells. Scared coffee growers in Chikkamagaluru, Kodagu and Hassan districts have renewed their demand seeking the State government’s intervention to relocate the rogue elephants in forests and strengthen the fencing around declared wildlife areas.

“There have been over 25 human casualties in the past six months in these three districts due to the man-animal conflict,” says B S Jairam, a grower in Mudigere and former chairman of the Karnataka Growers Federation. Over the past few days, there have been at least three deaths due to elephant trampling in Mudigere and Sakleshpur taluks, he said.

The growing man-animal conflict has become a cause of concern for the coffee growers in these three districts with the elephant population on the rise. Due to the scarcity of fodder in the forests, especially during summer, the pachyderms tend to make their way to the coffee plantations. Nestled in the Western Ghats, the coffee-growing regions in Karnataka are adjacent to wildlife sanctuaries such as Bhadra and Pushpagiri Reserve. Karnataka accounts for about 70 per cent of the coffee produced in the country.

An elephant rampaging through an coffee estate near Madugundi in Chikkamagaluru

Grave situation

“The situation is very grave and growers are losing hope because no amount of representations is yielding results. In many estates, the moment the elephants enter, it is dangerous to work and nor do workers dare to go inside the estate,” said Jeffrey Rebello, Vice President, United Planters Association of South India (UPASI).

“Their population is increasing year-on-year and they don’t have adequate fodder and water in summer. Elephants are straying and camping in estates for extended periods of time destroying coffee, banana and areca plants,” Rebello said.

Jairam said the growers have been facing the threat from wild pachyderms for the past 2-3 decades and estimates that over 120 people have succumbed to elephant trampling during the period.

Besides, the entry of elephants causes damage to the yielding coffee bushes and pepper vines among others, resulting in crop loss thereby inflicting economic hardships to the growers. “The relief provided for the losses incurred by the growers in terms of plant loss is very minuscule when compared to the income loss from the damages caused to the yielding plants, which have a life about 35-40 years” Jairam said.

Making it a habitat

Jairam estimates that there are over 8,000 wild elephants in Karnataka, of which about 150-200 have made their habitat in the coffee estates and have turned rogue causing damages to the estates. He further said the government should take steps to fence the forest areas through solar or rail fencing to prevent the straying of the jumbos into the plantation regions and human habitats.

N. Ramanathan, Chairman, Karnataka Planters Association (KPA), said the elephant population in the plantation areas of Kodagu has gone up from around 600 about 3-4 years ago to over 1,000 now. “There’s no fodder for all these animals in the forests and that’s the reason they are coming to the estates. They have been attracted by jackfruit, banana, sugarcane, chickoo and in the past few years they have also started feasting on the coffee fruits,” he said.

The KPA chairman said there are more deaths happening now due to the man-animal conflict. “Moreover, it is becoming difficult to work in the estates as people are not confident of moving around in the estates. In addition to the lives lost, there is a loss of crops and property damage. These elephants have to be translocated to somewhere else, where there is low population and measures should be taken to control their population,” Ramanathan said.

“In the coffee districts, both humans and elephants have badly suffered. In Hassan, though human deaths have come down, crop loss continues and several elephants have been electrocuted, shot, captured and translocated and this is certainly not co-existence. The future of wildlife conservation hinges on reducing human-wildlife conflict to tolerable limits or else large mammals like elephants has little future as the animosity against them is colossal,” said Sanjay Gubbi, wildlife biologist. 

“The population of elephants may have increased due to the way their natural habitats are managed. Artificially increasing surface water within the protected areas by digging more and more water holes, harvesting water using solar water pumps have all reduced natural mortality of elephants but the natural habitat available is not increasing. This has led to elephants disbursing into new areas and cause conflict. Since elephants have no natural enemies, lack of water during dry seasons is a critical controller of their populations. Secondly, halting loss of elephant habitats is another long-term solution to reduce conflict,” Gubbi added.

Published on August 17, 2022
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