Human-Elephant Conflict: Can Rs 500 Crore Rail Barricading Project In Karnataka Fix This Problem?


To tackle such conflicts and avoid losses on both sides, it is important to strengthen the human-elephant coexistence through interventions of various stakeholders and generating awareness in local communities of forest fringe areas.

Man-elephant conflict in Karnataka has been a persistent and significant issue, with human settlements often overlapping with elephant habitats.

To prevent elephants from straying out of forests, the Karnataka State government recently estimated that around Rs 500 crore is required to complete rail barricading around the forests.

In the last three weeks, the State recorded three deaths due to elephant attacks. Additionally, of the 51 wild animal attack deaths reported during 2022–2023, 29 involved elephants.

The identified 641-km stretch of forest that requires a rail barricade system has only had about 310 km stretch of the project completed so far. The expectation is that the casualties due to animal attacks can be reduced by 80 per cent if the barricading is completed.

To complete a one-kilometre stretch of rail barricade requires around Rs 1.5 crore, and Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre estimates that the department will need about Rs 450 crore to Rs 500 crore to finish the project.

The department is also using hanging solar fences to prevent animals from straying out.

Elephant task forces

To increase the effectiveness of preventing elephants from straying out, the State is also planning to increase the number of elephant task forces from five to seven. Task forces are already operating in Mysuru, Hassan, Kodagu, Chikkamagaluru, and Chamarajanagar districts. The two new task forces will be set up in Ramanagara and Bengaluru Rural districts where cases of elephants straying out are high.

The decision to set up these task forces was prompted by the recent deaths that occurred in Ramanagara, as well as the recurrent occurrence of elephants straying from Bannerghatta forest.

Is Rail Barricading Adequate?

These barricades not only fail to regulate elephant migration, but they also endanger the lives of wild elephants.

In January 2023, an adult male tusker was captured on camera crossing the railway barricade at the Nagarahole forest edges, a not-so-rare occurrence. The tusker risked its life by attempting a monumental feat of crossing the barricade and reaching the settlement borders in search of fodder.

Unfortunately, incidents of elephants crossing such barricades have become a common sight across Abyathmangala and Nellihudikeri villages near Virajpet, showcasing the immense challenges faced by entire herds of wild elephants in their quest to navigate the barriers installed to control their free movement.

Rail fences in Bandipur, Karnataka (GoI)

Nature Of Man-Elephant Conflict In Karnataka

India has the largest number of wild Asian Elephants, estimated at 29,964 according to 2017 census by Project Elephant, i.e. about 60 per cent of the species’ global population.

Karnataka is home to a substantial population of elephants. According to the 2017 elephant census, Karnataka has 6,049 elephants.

The Asian elephant plays a crucial role in its forest ecosystem. Commonly referred to as a ‘keystone’ species, it helps to open up forest clearings and distributes the seeds of trees and shrubs.

They are known as ecosystem’s engineer and gardener. They play a vital role in forest enhancement by disbursing seeds and creating environment for germination.

Asian elephants are categorised as Critically Endangered species in India due to reduction of population.

Elephants’ interactions with human communities have resulted in conflicts and potential threats to both human lives and elephant populations.

The state of Karnataka has several protected areas, national parks, and wildlife reserves, including Bandipur National Park, Nagarhole National Park, and B.R. Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, which serve as crucial habitats for elephants. However, as human activities expand and encroach upon these natural habitats, conflicts between humans and elephants have intensified.

Several factors contribute to the man-elephant conflict in Karnataka. One key factor is the shrinking of elephant habitats due to urbanisation, agriculture, and infrastructure development. As a result, elephants often venture into nearby villages and towns in search of food and water, leading to encounters with humans.

Additionally, the fragmentation of elephant corridors, which are essential for their movement between habitats, further exacerbates the conflict.

The consequences of the man-elephant conflict in Karnataka have been devastating for both humans and elephants. On the human side, there have been instances of property damage, crop raiding, and, tragically, loss of lives.

For elephants, retaliatory killings, accidental deaths due to electrocution or train collisions, and habitat loss pose significant threats to their population and long-term survival.

To address the issue, the government of Karnataka, along with various wildlife conservation organisations, has implemented several measures. One crucial approach is the establishment of elephant corridors to facilitate the safe movement of elephants between habitats.

These corridors aim to reduce conflicts by providing a designated path for elephants, thereby minimising their interaction with human settlements.

Human-Elephant Conflict Management

To tackle such conflicts and avoid losses on both sides, it is important to strengthen the human-elephant coexistence through by active management interventions by the State Forest Departments, involvement of various stakeholders and sensitisation and generating awareness in local communities of forest fringe areas.

The techniques to mitigate human-elephant conflicts can be divided into three broad categories. The first group includes innovations like i) non-preferred crop cultivation, ii) bio-fencing, iii) solar electric fencing, iv) trip alarm, v) chilli rope, and vi) watchtowers.

The second group is about improving elephant habitat through establishing i) salt lick and ii) plantation for elephants.

The final category includes organising community people living in elephant ranges into smaller groups — Elephant Response Teams — and building their capacity to mitigate human-elephant conflict not only for pushing away elephants invade their localities, but also helping their communities with above mitigation technologies and by raising their awareness.

These mitigation measures in the field can reduce the conflict from scaling up.

Way Forward

Scaling Up Nature-Based Solutions

Maintenance and replication of nature-based initiatives, like plantation, salt lick and bio-fencing are needed to be carried out by Karnataka Forest Department in collaboration with local communities and other appropriate stakeholders. In designing future plantation programmes, the prerequisite is to consider those tree species that are favourable for elephant as well as for other wildlife.

Monitoring, Maintenance And Replication Of Installed Measures

Installed technologies like, solar electric fencing, trip alarm and watchtower are effective tools for conflict minimisation. For the maintenance of these measures, formation of a community-managed fund is needed to bear the cost of repair, especially after the warranty period of electronic devices. Assistance from non-government organisations is required in the formation of the community-managed fund.

Public Awareness And Capacity Building

To improve the understanding of the stakeholders who are establishing infrastructures in or around the forest areas and the people dependent on forest resources, it is very crucial to engage them in awareness raising programmes on wildlife conservation and its importance in maintaining ecosystems. In the human-wildlife conflict-prone areas, the conflict mitigation opportunities is also a vital agenda of such awareness campaigns, which may need to be followed by capacity building initiatives.