No `Kumki` business this
The wholesome conservation of elephants in the wild has emerged as a major challenge for the forest department of Orissa.
I am afraid, it may be a bit tiring for the readers to digest so much stuff on the wildlife species` plight, but the way this issue is treated by the state government as a whole and the forest department in particular, remains a compelling reason for such continuations.
One is left appalled at the callous ineptitude rules within the corridors of the wildlife department in Orissa, in the name of salvaging the rots within the system. The wholesome conservation of elephants in the wild has emerged as a major challenge for the department whose left hand does not know what the right is doing. Setting priorities is, seemingly, none of its business. While deaths due to man-animal (elephant mainly) conflict riddle the newspaper pages almost every day, the top guys in the wildlife wing, obliviously sitting in the state capital, devise some deceptive tactics to take the people for a ride.
Last week, within three days, three wild elephants were found dead at different locations across the state. One of them had died due to electrocution while the reason behind the death of the other two still remains a mystery. At the time of writing this piece, the news of the death of another elephant has trickled in. Such deaths have become a routine affair.
Imagine a scene where a `kumki` (captive elephants trained to handle unruly wild counterparts) elephant is seen running away from his business and chasing a human, instead of elephants, and killing him by tossing him up and down inside a paddy field. A sorry sight which has fuelled the local sentiment to become an outrage resulting in a situation which the forest field staff finds it difficult to tackle. Or an innocent elephant calf being chased and beaten for hours to death by an insensitive mob in Assam or a six month old calf getting caught in a trap laid by poachers to capture wild boar and driven to a state of trauma and dying in the wild in Orissa.
The reasons behind these conflicts leading to the deaths of animals and people, are all too familiar. One is a complete lack of an integrated approach towards either conservation or management of elephants, let alone the regard for centuries-old symbiosis that has kept both sides together through an unseen bond. It would touch our rawest nerves if we think of the animals` encounter with hunger and death.
Can anyone believe that the use of one or two pairs of `kumki` elephants (without even a crash course in the art) can solve the problem by shepherding the straying wild elephants back to the jungle? The answer is a big No. That is for the simple reason that, where are the forests? It is the rapid depletion of forests that drives the animals towards human habitats. What next? Such news developments have become so frequent that even people have virtually stopped pandering to the bleeding hearts in the forest or the people in the villages who get killed. And the wildlife officials, they hardly have any regrets.
Now coming back to the `kumki` operation peddled in the woods of Orissa, a major habitat for the pachyderms, the whole act invited scepticism before it started, and ridicule afterwards. They picked up a hyperactive elephant, Shankar and sent him to Keonjhar to join the female partner, Yashodha. Neither Shankar nor Yashodha had undergone even the minimum ‘kumki’ training before being pressed into service as significant as playing the role of a vigilant monitor to discipline the wild ones.
And what was worse that Shankar was left in the open as a ‘kumki’ without his original Mahut, “a Himalayan blunder one would expect from the people who lord over the jungles as wildlife experts. A very sensitive aspect no sane wildlifer can lose sight of,” rued Biswajit Mohanty, a known wildlife expert. But the big bosses sitting in Bhubaneswar have their reckless ways of absolving themselves from a thing called morality.
Few days back they forcefully took a depressed captive elephant from Nandankanan, Nandan, to employ him as a kumki in and around Chandka Elephant Reserve, without even acclimatizing the disturbed elephant with the new situation and habitat!
It falls perhaps just short of an unforgivable audacity that a top level wildlife officer of the rank of Chief Conservator, in the state capital, while reacting on the Shankar episode, most discretely tried to wash his hands off the whole affair by stating that "it happened because the original mahut of Shankar had come back from the spot". Then whose responsibility was it to ensure that the operation had to be kept on hold unless the real mahut was back? The answer was a silence of disturbing equanimity.
The thrust on elephant conservation, as often trumpeted from Delhi by the Union MoEF, Jairam Ramesh, cannot be translated into a reality through such calibrated assumptions or a trial and error method. The modalities require to be accompanied by a fortitude towards practical implementations that is not possible through remote controls.
But unfortunately, the department rests on a reverse-pyramid like structure "where the top level officers remain perennially busy looking for the means to give forest clearance to either miners or paving the path for the corporate expansions," remarked Biswajit Mohanty. The people of this structure have wittingly or otherwise sown the doubts and confusions in the public mind about their intensions and the filibustering `netas`, perhaps, prefer such sacrilegious solicitations to an overtime engagement for animals.