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Giant Refugees

Giant Refugees

On the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city, Odisha, a herd of wild elephants is caught in simmering conflict with humans. These elephants are regularly harassed and abused as they wander rural lands and degraded forests in search of food. Urge the Chief Minister of the state to implement short-term and long-term solutions for their protection.

The Athgarh elephant herd comprises about 22 individual elephants, including several young calves. They are led by their matriarch, Laxmi. Photo: Aditya Chandra Panda.

Stop the Abuse of the Athgarh Elephants!

The elephant is the face of Lord Ganesha; the vehicle of Lord Indra; the symbol of the Buddha. Our ancestors carved its likeness into the ancient rocks of Mahabalipuram and engraved it on the seals of the Indus Valley civilization. For thousands of years, the people of the sub-continent have revered and worshipped Elephas maximus for its strength and wisdom and loyalty. Befittingly then, India hosts the largest population of endangered Asian elephants in the world. But tragically, these wild herds survive in fragmented landscapes, vulnerable to electric fences and country bombs, roads and railways.

A mob of local men, brandishing sticks and throwing stones, chase a young tusker as he tries to cross a dirt path to join his herd. Photo: Karan Tejpal.

In the denuded forests and rural lands that fringe Bhubaneswar city, Odisha, a herd of wild elephants is caught indefinitely in conflict. The nearby Chandaka-Dampara Wildlife Sanctuary, the natal home of their matriarch Laxmi, is too small and degraded to support them. And so, for years now, they have wandered rural lands, seeking refuge in islanded patches of forests in the Athgarh Forest Division in the day and moving forth at night in search of food and the next safe place to rest.

On many days, when they begin to move at twilight, the mob descends. The frenzy of the men is overwhelming as they harass and abuse the herd. Often, they are not acting in defence or retaliation as there are no standing crops and no homesteads to be protected. This is their evening entertainment. The grace and restraint of the elephants is humbling. The adult females of the herd are a fortress around the babies, while the matriarch Laxmi and her daughter and second-in-command Moti, hold the defence. The two could wreak havoc upon the gathered men, but they do not. It is as obvious that the elephants are exhausted and anguished as that the men are gleeful.

The situation is a ticking time bomb – and when it explodes, both elephant and human blood will stain the land. While long-term solutions involve restoring connectivity between forests in the state and beyond, a short-term solution is vital to halt the regular harassment of this wild herd and minimise the risk of bloodshed.

A satellite map of the Athgarh landscape shows the ‘islanded’ forests that need to urgently be reconnected via the restoration of forest corridors. Photo Courtesy: Aditya Chandra Panda.

Section 2, Subsection 16 of India’s Wild Life Protection Act (1972) prohibits hunting, which includes “capturing, coursing, snaring, trapping, driving or baiting any wild or captive animal and every attempt to do so;” as well as “injuring or destroying or taking any part of the body of any such animal.”

The harassment of the Athgarh elephants falls under the ambit of this section, and is punishable with a jail term of up to three years for a first offence and seven for repeat offenders. Unfortunately, the resource-starved Forest Department is under-equipped to implement this law, and no one else is paying attention to this problem.

Share the link to the campaign video (available in Hindi and English) with Shri. Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha. Ask him to take urgent action to protect the refugee elephants of Athgarh by:

* Directing police intervention to control mobs so that the elephants are allowed undisturbed passage.

* Setting up a task force to effect the restoration of the Chandaka-Dampara Wildlife Sanctuary, and to secure and revive its corridors to the Kapilas Wildlife Sanctuary and the Satkosia landscape in the state.

Send him an email at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

With a copy to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Tweet to him @Naveen_Odisha with the hashtag #GiantRefugees.


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