Project Elephant debuts in Himachal Pradesh as jumbo tuskers make a beeline


Off late, a rare occurrence has been observed with a set of elephants having started to make a beeline in the hill State of Himachal Pradesh from the neighboring forests of Uttarakhand. In response to the movement of these tuskers started to increase in the past couple of years, which gave rise to the human-elephant conflict, ‘Project Elephant’ made its debut in Himachal Pradesh.

Over the years, human-elephant conflict has become a major conservation concern, and has posed a challenge for elephant management across parts of India. Recently, a similar situation started to emerge in Himachal Pradesh as well. To deal with the situation, the ‘Project Elephant’ has now been introduced in the State – aimed at protecting the habitat and corridors of elephants, while also safeguarding human lives, their livelihood, and their properties, and in the process minimizing human-elephant. conflict.

In the past, there has been isolated or rare movement of elephants from Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand to neighboring forests of Himachal Pradesh. However, in the past two or three years the number of tuskers traveling to Himachal has gone up. While this has brought joy for wildlife enthusiasts it has also caused much worry for the local populace.

Traditionally, the movement of elephants has been largely concentrated in areas such as Kaunch Valley and other areas close to the river Yamuna, which runs between the borders of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In the past two years, however, the jumbos could be seen regularly and in increased numbers in the Majra and Girinagar regions of Paonta Sahib territorial division, and Kolar and Nahan ranges of Nahan division in the Sirmour district of Himachal Pradesh, coming from the Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand. According to the wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh Forest Department, close to a dozen elephants had been consistently strolling in the state’s territory falling in Sirmour.

These jumbos usually move between Rajaji National Park-Chakrata-Colnel Sherjung National Park (Simbalbara)-Paonta-Nahan ranges, and further to Kalesar in Haryana at times. The distance they are traveling is invariably close to 40 kilometers from Uttarakhand’s forests, which local wildlife officials consider as a ‘long distance’ movement.

These elephants usually cross over to Himachal when there’s a reduced water level in Yamuna. While there is not one clear reason behind the increased movement of tuskers towards the forests in Himachal, wildlife experts assert that the rising human imprints within the ‘elephant corridors’ have resulted in a habitat loss for the elephants, pushing them to find new spaces.

The expanding human habitation, encroachments, and construction activities such as road-railway tracks are a few reasons that adversely impact the movement of elephants and create disturbances in their home ground. The chances of human-elephant conflict situations also rise, which invariably results in undesirable consequences for humans and elephants.

On the other hand, the latest ‘long distance’ movement of these tuskers is seen as an encouraging sign by some preservationists, indicating that the ‘corridors’ are flourishing, which is good for wildlife. According to the Wildlife Trust of India, the elephant corridors are linear, narrow, natural habitat linkages that allow elephants to move between secure habitats without being disturbed by humans.

As the movement of elephants increased in Himachal Pradesh, it led to increasing conflict cases in the region. In the year 2022 two elephants died in Paonta, besides, one human casualty was reported in the month of May this year in Nahan, arising out of the ‘conflict’. Following this, the need was felt for the introduction of ‘Project Elephant’.

The State government sent a proposal to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, seeking implementation of Project Elephant, which is expected to help minimizing human-elephant conflicts. Notably, the Ministry recently merged Project Tiger division with Project Elephant and a new division with the name ‘Project Tiger and Elephant Division’ has been created.

The Center has given its nod for introducing Project Elephant in Himachal Pradesh and approved an amount of ₹87 lakh under the project, according to Anil Thakur, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (wildlife) in Himachal Pradesh. The Project Elephant was launched in the year 1992 by the government of India, aimed at protecting elephants, and their habitat corridors, and addressing issues of man-animal conflict. The Center provides financial assistance to States and Union Territories under the centrally sponsored schemes of ‘Project Elephant’ for the management of wildlife and its habitats in the country.

Himachal Pradesh’s wildlife officials are all set to welcome the jumbos and ready to take necessary measures to manage and protect the corridors in a bid to ensure the unhindered movement of elephants to avoid negative interactions with local people.

Following the nod for the Project Elephant in Himachal Pradesh, Aishwarya Raj, the Deputy Conservator of Forest at Paonta Sahib is upbeat and optimistic about the protection of elephants, their habitats-corridors and addressing the issue of human-animal conflict in the days to come. .

He said with the Centre’s financial and technical support they intend to start the installation of watchtowers, elephant-proof trenches, and solar fencing, besides kicking off elephant awareness exercises, deploying anti-depredation squads, camera traps, night vision devices and engaging local volunteers. gaj mitras – all this he says, would assist in tracking movement of jumbos, identify the route being taken by them and eventually aid in elephant management and conservation.


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