The Other Side Of Conservation: Increase In Wildlife Population And Human-Animal Conflict In Kerala

On July 8, 2022, Sivaraman, a native of Dhoni in Kerala’s Palakkad district left home for his routine morning walk, but he never came back.

Sivaraman was trampled to death by a wild elephant that chased him into a paddy field.


The hunt for PT-7 aka Dhoni 

This was the start of the terror unleashed by the elephant later named as PT-7 (Palakkad Tusker-7) by the Kerala Forest Department on the residents of the Dhoni village.

For the next seven months, PT-7 became a regular sight in and around the village, raiding paddy fields for food and destroying other crops.

After months of continued protest by locals, Kerala Forest Department launched its biggest of its kind operation to capture a wild animal.

Some 75 Forest Department personnel and three kumki elephants were deployed to track and tranqulise the troublemaker.


On January 22, the team succeeded in its mission and the wild elephant was tranqulised and captured, ending its seven months of terror.

The elephant which is still in captivity has been renamed Dhoni and will be trained as a kumki and in the future will be deployed to chase away problem tuskers like him.


Wayanad farmer killed by tiger in his filed

While this was a high-profile case of human-animal conflict, this in no way is an isolated incident.

On January 12, Thomas, a 50-year-old farmer from Wayanad was killed by a tiger, while he was working on his field, nearly 10kms away from the nearest forest.


On January 6, a man was injured after he was attacked by a wild elephant in the middle of Sulthan Bathery town in Wayanad.

Wild elephant in search of rice

A wild elephant, which has developed a liking for rice has been frequently raiding a ration shop near Munnar, and in the past few weeks, the rouge tusker has ransacked the shop at least ten times.


Wild animals venture out of forests

In fact, wild animals being spotted in unusual places or in areas that they haven’t been seen in decades have become the new normal in Kerala.

Almost every day, Kerala is waking up to a new incident of human-animal conflict, mostly involving elephants, tigers, leopards, wild bores and monkeys.

This has put farmers, especially in the three most-affected districts, Wayanad, Palakkad, and Idukki in a collision course with the wildlife.


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Exploding wildlife population

According to Kerala Independent Farmers Association (KIFA), the largest farmers’ organisation in the state, they are paying the price of conservation.

They say that the wildlife population in Kerala’s forests has exploded in recent years and there is no space left for them despite the ‘increase in forest cover’.

According to the last available official data, in 2018 Kerala had 190 tigers of which 80 are in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. However, farmers in Wayanad claim that the actual number of tigers in the sanctuary is between 150 and 170. 


They say that the low distribution of prey is the reason for tigers straying into villages, where they attack and kill cattle, dogs and other animals for food.

There is also a similar rise in the leopard population and distribution across Kerala, and these days finding leopard families in farms and human settlements has become ‘normal’.


Famers pay for conservation success

The story of the wild elephant population is also not different. Thanks to years of conservation efforts, the wild elephant population in Kerala’s forests has bounced back.

According to the 2017 elephant census, there were around 5,700 wild jumbos in Kerala. But farmers say the real numbers are much higher. Due to this increase in population, large herds of elephants raiding agricultural lands have become a daily affair in Kerala, with deadly consequences.


In reply to an RTI query, State Chief Wildlife Warden had said that wild tuskers killed 105 persons in Kerala between 2018 and 2022.

The latest victim of wild elephants was Sakthivel, a forest watcher with the Kerala forest department.

Sakthivel, who was part of the Rapid Response Team that was deployed to chase away a herd of wild elephants that was camping in an estate at Santhanpara of Idukki district was trampled to death by one of the jumbos.


In the past ten years, at least 43 people have been killed by wild elephants in the region.

Can wildlife population be controlled?

Fed up by the repeated attacks by wildlife, farmers have been demanding that animals like wild boars should be declared as pests and should be culled. They also demand that at least some of the tigers and elephants should be captured and relocated to other forests.

Earlier this month, in an unusual move, Kerala Forest Minister AK Saseendran said that the increasing wild animal population was a reason for the man-animal conflicts and that the government will approach the Supreme Court seeking steps to control the wild animal population, including birth control.

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