Forest officials said the tuskers have been able to find plenty of food in the villages and hence refusing to leave. Image Credit: Reuters

Patna: Herds of elephants which ventured into human settlements in Jharkhand during the COVID-19 lockdown are now refusing to return to jungles despite all efforts by the villagers and forest officials. This has resulted in human-elephant conflicts, claiming the lives of some 24 people, including seven in Latehar district, forest officials said.

Villagers and forest officials said some three herds of elephants, said to be 38 in number, are roaming around the human settlements in Jharkhand districts such as Latehar, Chatra, Hazaribagh, Gumla and Ranchi. They came too close to the villages as the entire areas remained literally deserted and the people stayed inside their homes due to some 90-day nationwide lockdown enforced last year.

Now, the situation is such that the herds of tuskers are just refusing to return as they have found enough food in the villages and got familiar with the local population. “The current situation is that the herds of elephants come back to the villages shortly after being driven away. That is happening again and again although we are trying hard to push them back,” a senior forest official Raushan Kumar said from Latehar district.

Forest officials said the tuskers have been able to find plenty of food in the villages and hence refusing to leave. “They have been breaking the mud walls of the houses and feasting on grains stored there as well as country liquor which they like the most,” another forest official said, wishing not to be identified. According to him, the tuskers are now damaging homes after smelling scents of this alcohol wafting through the air in the neighbourhood.

Yet another reason behind not returning to their natural habitats, forest officials said, is that quite many elephants have given birth to babies during their journey to the villages. They are now taking care of their babies and attacking any villagers whom they perceive as potential threats. According to the officials, the herds will not leave the areas until the babies become young.

“Every village is trying to keep the herds out of their peripheries which has resulted in conflict with human populations,” said forest official Kumar. “But the problem for the tuskers is that most of the rivers in the state are in spate during these rainy seasons and they are unable to find ways to return to the jungle since the areas remain flooded,” he said. He said the forest department had engaged several teams of forest guards and were keeping a close watch on their movements to limit damage from both sides.

Reports said the villagers were using traditional methods such as bursting crackers, creating noises and burning fires in the localities to scare the herds away while the forest teams lacked adequate training. A senior forest official posted with Betla National Park located in Palamu district sought for imparting adequate training to both forest guards and local villagers to safely drive away the herds of elephants seeking solace in the company of human populations.