October 2011: The Chandaka-Dampada Wildlife Sanctuary in Orissa was created in 1982 to provide refuge to a population of elephants that was an extension of the Satkosia-Aathgarh-Kapilas population. However, the elephants are being increasingly isolated due to the anthropogenic pressures that are tearing their home apart. The sanctuary (175 sq. km.), home to leopards and other wildlife, borders Bhubaneshwar on its northwestern side and represents the final stretch of the Eastern Ghats.
The sanctuary (175 sq. km.), home to leopards and other wildlife, borders Bhubaneshwar on its northwestern side and represents the final stretch of the Eastern Ghats. It was at one time a mixed sal forest that harboured tigers but had been degraded to scrub by the time it was declared a sanctuary. Bamboo and planted teak now dots the forest. The sanctuary was once connected to the forests of Aathgarh and Kapilas through a narrow corridor on its northern side. This allowed elephants to cross the Mahanadi river to reach these forests and return the same way. They seemed to be doing well and numbered around 85 by the middle of the last decade. However, by the late 1990s and early 2000s, conflict with humans escalated severely. The northern corridor across the Mahanadi had been blocked. Chandaka was now an island within an urban sprawl. The elephants were being pushed in by the ever expanding city, while inside the tiny sanctuary, five illegal villages were pushing them out by degrading the habitat through cattle grazing, felling, cultivation and rampant poaching of deer and wild pigs.
Elephants in distress
Out of desperation, a large herd of around 22 elephants came out of the sanctuary, crossed the extremely busy and dangerous 'Golden Quadrilateral' on NH-5 just outside Bhubaneshwar and moved southwards, crossing kilometres of humanity before finding sanctuary in the hills of the Tangi-Ranpur 'mal' forests. From here they have now spread out into southern Orissa and are constantly embroiled in severe conflict. Other elephants from Chandaka followed this desperate route, some even landing disoriented in the Chilika Lake - where elephants had never been recorded before - while some died of exhaustion en route. Today, southern Orissa is a human-elephant conflict hotspot and the state is busy training its entire force of captive elephants as kumkis to counter these 'problem' elephant-refugees in their own land.
Meanwhile, the elephants remaining in Chandaka are a fluctuating population. Some 20 of them have managed to find new means to cross the Mahanadi and keep shuttling between Chandaka and Aathgarh. Of the remaining 20, around six are trapped in a satellite forest patch of around 10 sq. km. inside Bhubaneshwar, called the Bharatpur Reserve Forest. This forest is connected to Chandaka by a narrow corridor that, along with Bharatpur, is a notified part of the sanctuary, but is all but lost due to the uncontrolled growth of real estate.
The dismal scenario
The haphazard growth of the real estate business in Bhubaneshwar is the biggest threat to Chandaka and Bharatpur. Large colleges, apartment complexes, gated colonies, etc. are being built on the boundary of the sanctuary, even on known elephant paths. Their powerful lights, construction noise and increased human movement restrict the movement of the pachyderms. Their habitat is invaded by weeds and most of the bamboo clumps have been felled. They lead a wretched life, drinking water from leaking pipelines and strolling outside the sanctuary at night, crossing the Bhubaneshwar-Chandaka road and foraging in nearby fields before returning to the sanctuary before dawn. Broken in spirit, when they come across people, they know better than to fight. Even when pelted with stones, they simply turn their backs. More than a conservation issue, the agony of the Bharatpur elephants is one that demands immediate action on humane terms while long-term conservation measures are put in place.
With inputs from Aditya Chandra Panda, Wild Orissa.
The following measures must be immediately considered to save Chandaka:
- Declare an eco-sensitive zone around the sanctuary. Halt all construction activity within the immediate vicinity of the sanctuary and around the Bharatpur-Chandaka corridor and undertake an enquiry into the illegal constructions.
- Ban existing buildings from using external lights at night.
- Undertake weed removal in Bharatpur and create an adequately sized meadow with a waterbody to provide fodder for elephants and chital.
- Expedite the relocation of the five villages within the sanctuary.
- Restore the sanctuary's connectivity with the forests of Aathgarh and Kapilas across the Mahanadi. The state government should purchase land using CAMPA funds if necessary to facilitate this.
- Create a strong sanctuary management plan with an onus on conservation.
- Check prey base loss as this has a serious impact on the leopard population.
- Truck traffic diverted from NH-5 onto the Barang-Khurda road must either be stopped from dusk to dawn or be diverted back to NH-5 or other alternative routes. Further widening of the Barang-Khurda road must be halted
- Undertake an enquiry (perhaps by the National Board of Wildlife) as to how the construction of so many structures was permitted so close to the PA boundary.
Write a polite letter stating the above points to:
Shri Debi Prasad Mishra,
Minister of Environment & Forests,
Government of Orissa,
State Secretariat, Bhubaneshwar.
Shri J.D. Sharma,
PCCF (Wildlife) cum Chief Wildlife Warden,
Government of Orissa,
'Prakruti Bhawan', Neelkanth Nagar,
Unit-8, Bhubaneshwar - 751012.
Tel.: 0674-2564587; 2565019
Shri Akshay Patnaik,
DFO, Chandaka Wildlife Division,
Asian Elephant Conservation and Research Complex (AECARC),Bhubaneshwar - 751003.