India (Sputnik) – A social media campaign meant to draw attention to clashes between elephants and humans in eastern India has begun to go viral after a video was posted showing a group of men attacking and chasing a herd of the animals.
A crowd of over 200 men shouted at the 25-odd elephants, pelting them with stones, and chasing them into a forest. The video was taken December 2016, by conservationist Cara Tejpal.
“I personally witnessed the horrific harassment of the herd in December 2016, and can say that it was a vile experience,” said Tejpal in an email to Mongabay. “I watched these beautiful animals, so many little elephant calves included, being tormented for three hours that evening! And this is a routine that plays out regularly, week after week.”
“It was such a horrific situation,” said Tejpal to Reuters. “Sadly, elephants are becoming refugees in our country in the rush for development, and man-elephant conflict is reaching [a] boiling point.”
The elephants in the footage lived in a wildlife sanctuary outside of the city of Bhubaneswar, the capital of the Odisha state. In 2001, there were 90 elephants in the sanctuary, but, as urbanization shrank the sanctuary, now there are now no more than eight.
Human expansion into elephant sanctuaries has created “refugee herds,” such as those detailed in the viral video. Some herds end up in human-occupied lands, according to conservationist Aditya Panda.
“The elephants are stranded in a small forest space, and that’s why they’ve been wandering into human habitations,” he told Reuters.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has not responded to the campaign, although subordinate Bikram Arukh (the state forest minister), has stated that new habitats are being created for the elephants. He also claims that there are groups of shepherds to give the elephants safe passage through human-occupied lands.
Panda says that these are only temporary fixes. “The man-animal conflict will only get worse and we will all suffer unless we take action now.”
Sidhant Das, Odisha’s chief wildlife warden, has proposed the creation of two more elephant reserves that would occupy 25 percent of the forests in Odisha. The giant refugees pose a threat to both themselves and to humans, said Das, and the state has an obligation to protect both man and beast.
This report prepared by Sputnik.