Elephant raids uproot a remote Kerala village

Elephant raids uproot a remote Kerala village
Representational Image

Kasaragod: The frequent menace of wild elephants has unsettled life and local economy of a remote hilly village in Kerala's Kasaragod district. The man-animal conflict has taken such a vicious turn at Adhur, close to the forested border with Karnataka, that many have already migrated downhill, leaving or desperately selling fertile farmlands were cash crops once abounded before elephant raids began too frequent. Those continuing to live there are on their edge as peace eludes them and life too is at risk. Damage to property, both personal and agricultural, are immense as elephants and even boars uproot plants, trees, electric poles and whatever that come in their way.

Even youth find it difficult to find a suitable match as few are willing to enter into a matrimonial alliance with families living precariously. Men of Shimoga Colony at Adhur continue to remain bachelors for the best part of their life. Young women not only from this village but from neighbouring regions turn down their marriage proposals.  For them settling down in this part of the world would mean a life filled with horror and sleepless nights.

The childcare centre (anganwadi) here has a lone inmate -- Little Angel Maria -- as the locality has few children owing to low birth rate, a fallout of fewer marriages. Years ago, the anganwadi was reportedly lively with 20 to 30 children, today it has few takers.

There are 50 unlucky bachelors here who had long hunted for brides and have now crossed their marital age, says anganwadi worker M J Valsamma.

Even the girls of the village are married off to men living down the valleys.

As many as 250 houses come under the limits of the anganwadi. But, many families have deserted the houses and migrated to safer zones, fearing elephant attacks. The scary tales of wild jumbos are not just confined to Shimoga Colony but are spread across Kanjirakolly, Shanti Nagar, Vanchiyathu, Ayyamkunnu and Aanapanthi. The wild beasts have trampled upon the lives and dreams of the people residing in the hilly belt adjoining the Karnataka forests.

People in the dark and migrate

For a section of human settlement that was bound to live in the dark for the most part of their lives, the belated total electrification project had instilled fresh hopes. The thought of drawing power lines changing their life for the better made the enthusiastic residents shoulder the electric poles all by themselves to the higher reaches through non-motorable roads. However, all their efforts did not yield the desired result as herds of elephants toppled the erected poles.

Unable to find a permanent solution to wild animal attacks, migration from the high ranges to the valley has become intense. Most of the vacant houses at Chandanakampara and Payyavoor are now occupied and it has become difficult to get houses on rent.

The locals say that some landlords are quite reluctant to rent out the house for fear that occupants might stay there forever.

As people sell the house and farmlands and migrate to valleys, the property lands in the hands of investors who hardly have an interest in agriculture. With little care and attention, the farmlands, bordering Karnataka forests gradually turn into large swathes of wild outgrowths, offering an ideal habitat to wildlife. The jumbos from Karnataka forests descend onto the deserted land and go on a rampage, say the villagers. 

Chandanakampara too could be easily accessed by the jumbos through a steep route from Chemmala.

United in trouble

Realising the precarious situation, the folks of Mullankuzhi Thappu have come together and vowed to step in even at the dead of the night. The moment they hear the bursting of firecracker anywhere in the hillock to signal elephant sightings, Danish John, Sunny, Suresh, panchayat member Sajan and wife Princy come out with torches and yell at the top of their voice to know where help is needed, as they can’t rely on mobile phones. 

“Mobile network and power supply are as unpredictable as the wild jumbos themselves. They come and vanish all of a sudden,” say the residents. So the communication is done physically where the villagers call out to know where help is required and then set out for the rescue mission.

Another deterrent factor to the rescue mission is the thick mist that envelops the settlement. It is so thick that one cannot even make out the person standing close by. So precautions have to be taken to avoid coming in front of the elephant. Even then no one hesitates to come out of their homes to help. 

Despair and protest

The people of Shimoga Colony are desperate owing to recurring wild elephant attacks that they are ready to challenge the authorities. 

When Payyavoor police and Forest department officials came to rescue wild elephant that had fallen into an abandoned well at Pulicathadam, the locals stood in the way and said they would not be allowed to carry out the operation unless the people are duly compensated for the crop damage caused by elephant raids.

Finally, the authorities convened a large public meeting at Chandanmakampara church in which even the vicar Fr George Alappatt stood by the people’s demand. "It's not just the wild elephants that raid the farmlands but wild boar as well," says ward member P K Balakrishnan of Payyavoor panchayat.

Unique alarm

Vexed with the elephant menace, Thomas Mathew of Kuttakuzhy, Meenamchery, has devised an alarm system to detect the presence of the beasts. He tied plastic twines across the courtyard and farmlands and connected them to a bell fixed in front of his house. In case the elephant enters anywhere in his farm and touches the plastic rope, immediately the bell will ring. It would then be possible to ward off the creature by bursting fire crackers or by other methods.

Recently, people tried to scare away a wild elephant that foraged into Shimoga Colony using fire crackers. But it refused to depart as it was partially deaf. The animal attempted to move only after crackers were burst from the other side of the animal.

Public caught unawares

Wild tuskers went on a rampage in the border region of Manimoola at Kannadithottam and caused extensive damage to agriculture. The herds that came from Karnataka forests raided many farmlands. The area has been facing constant attacks from wild elephants in the past four days. Elephant movements are common in the human habitats of other hilly regions of Kasaragod district giving sleepless nights to the people.