KOLKATA: Buckling under pressure from the wildlife activists and NGOs, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has put on hold the plan to capture four wild elephants in Bengal for domestic use.

Elephant Human Conflict

New Delhi-based NGOs like Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the Wildlife Protection Society of IndiaWPSI) had taken up the issue with the MoEF, seeking more clarity on the elephant capturing plan.

Confirming the news, additional director general wildlife, MoEF, Jagdish Kishwan said that the plan has been put on hold. However, he refused to give further details. Chief wildlife warden in Bengal, S B Mondal, said that he has received a letter from the Centre on Monday stating that the plan has been suspended for now.

Permission for the elephant capturing was sought way back in 2000. But the MoEF on February 16 this year gave permission to the state to capture four sub-adult elephants from Dalma herd for captive use. Wildlife Trust of India’s conflict mitigation department head Anil Kumar Singh said they had sent a letter to the MoEF a couple of weeks back. “In Bengal, this is a major issue. And this happens due to large scale habitat loss for elephants. But capturing 4 elephants won’t solve the problem, rather it will start a bad trend,” he added.

Eminent ecologist Raman Sukumar, known for his work on elephant ecology and human wildlife conflict, said there has to be a detailed study before embarking upon such plans.

“The state should conduct a study on the routes used by the elephants, whether the forest patches are viable of holding the elephant population and identify the pachyderms which mostly lead the conflict. Unless these historical records are obtained, the entire effort to capture the elephants will remain half-hearted and won’t serve the purpose in the long run,” said Sukumar, who is also a professor with the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

Echoing his view, WTI’s executive director, Vivek Menon, said: “Elephant is a social animal and capturing four from a herd will only make them more aggressive. As a member of the elephant task force in 2011, I had suggested setting up of a conflict mitigation task force in Bengal with elephant experts and ecologists, who will track the elephant behaviour, routes they follow to migrate towards south Bengal, find the number of pachyderms entering every year, damage caused by these elephants and identify the rogue jumbos.

WPSI’s executive director Belinda Wright said the problem is not the elephants, but the habitat loss. “Sub-adult or young elephants are not responsible for the conflict. The depredation is led mostly by the big elephants. Even if the forest officials capture them, they won’t be able to train those jumbos,” Wright said, adding that she had taken up the issue with some experts in Sri Lanka, where the problem is very much prevalent.

In 1977, elephants were brought under the Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and such captures were made illegal. But the Centre, under Section 12 of the same act, can give permission for capture for population control and scientific research.

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