Paradox in Paradise
An overview of Bannerghatta National Park and the prevailing human-elephant conflict
The South Deccan Plateau ecoregion includes the cities of Bangalore and Mysore in Karnataka, and Coimbatore, Karur, Erode and Salem in Tamil Nadu. The forests in these regions are included in India’s most important elephant conservation areas. Bannerghatta National Park (South of Bangalore) is home to several species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds apart from the endangered Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).
The other prominent mammals seen in the park include Indian gaur (Bos gaurus), sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), spotted deer (Axis axis), leopard (Panthera pardus), wild dog (Cuon alpines), wild boar (Sus scrofa), sloth bear (Melurus ursinus), pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), common mongoose (Herpestes vitticollis), slender loris (Loris lardigradus), and black naped hare (Lepus nigricollis). And more than 222 species of birds!
The indigenous trees are Acacia catechu, Albizia amara, Anogeissus latifolia, Boswellia serrata, Cassia fistula, Chloroxylon swietenia, Dalbergia latifolia, Diospyros montana, Hardwickia binata, Pterocarpus marsupium, Shorea talura, Sterospermum personatum, Terminalia belirica, Terminalia paniculata, and Terminalia tomentosa. Sandalwood (Santalum album) was an important species of the forests at one time, but has been selectively removed.
Here is an excerpt from an article titled Asian Elephant and Bannerghatta National Park in Eastern Ghats, Southern India, authored by S. P. Gopalakrishna & R. K. Somashekar (Dept. of Environmental Science, Jnanabharathi Campus, Bangalore University, Bangalore, India), Vijay D. Anand (A Rocha India, Austin Town, Bangalore, India), Surendra Varma (Asian Elephant Research and Conservation Centre, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India) which gives us a overall view of the prevailing conditions in this fragile ecosystem.
- The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is the largest living land mammal and is presently endangered. There are only around 50,000 elephants in the wild and another 16,000 in captivity distributed across 13 Asian countries today. India has approximately 50% of the total population of wild elephants (20,000 to 25,000) distributed across 18 states/ union territories; with South India supporting around 10,000 elephants in the wild (Project Elephant 2008).
The confluence of the Western and Eastern Ghats at the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu state supports the largest Asian elephant population in southern India. These two ranges of mountains are unique in terms of the diversity of species and habitat. While the Western Ghats is one among the 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world, the Eastern Ghats represents the last largest remaining scrub forest for elephants. This major elephant habitat of southern India has been declared as the ‘Nilgiris and Eastern Ghats Elephant Reserve’ by Project Elephant; a conservation initiative of the Government of India (started in February 1992).
- The Nilgiris and Eastern Ghats Elephant Reserve is one of the largest Elephant Reserves in India with an area of 11,000 km2. The Karnataka part of this reserve is called the ‘Mysore Elephant Reserve’ which includes the Bannerghatta National Park (BNP). The BNP although administratively one of the smallest National Parks in India, geographically is contiguous with the largest remaining scrub forests of the country.
- It is linked to the Hosur forest division of the Tamil Nadu state to the Southeast and the Kanakapura forest division of the Karnataka state to the Southwest. These forest divisions further connect to the forest tracks of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary eventually joining the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve of Western Ghats forest at Nilgiris, stretching through Malaimahadeshwara hills, Biligiri Ranga Temple Sanctuary, Kollegal Forest Division and Sathyamangala Forests.
- The Bannerghatta National Park area has been divided into three wildlife ranges, viz. Bannerghatta, Harohalli and Anekal Wildlife Range for the convenience of administration. It is highly irregular in shape and measures a maximum of 26 km in length from North to South and varies between 0.3 and 5 km in width from East to West.
- The geology shows that the rocks are of the oldest formation revealing crypto crystalline to coarse granites and complex gneiss. The terrain is highly undulating with a mean altitude of 865 m and ranges between 700 and 1035 m above msl.
- The park receives an average annual rainfall of 937 mm ranging between 728 and 1352 mm spread across 8 months (April- November) with the maximum rainfall (50%) normally occurring between August and October.
- It has no rivers originating or flowing through it but has several streams. There are more than 50 water holes in the park and many of them are natural and are constantly renovated to augment their water holding capacity along with a few manmade ones.
- There is also seasonality of elephant presence in the park leading to fluctuation in their number. The fluctuations facilitate the presence of more elephants in Bannerghatta and Anekal ranges of the park. To move between these two ranges, they have to traverse through Harohalli range. The Karadikkal-Madeswara elephant corridor located in Harohalli range is acting as a link between the two. The corridor measures about 1 km in length and 0.3-0.4 km in width connecting northern and southern portion of the park.
- The South India synchronized elephant census conducted during 2002, 2005 and 2007 by the Project Elephant, Government of India has estimated a mean density of 0.68, 0.71 and 1.41 elephants/km2 respectively for the park. The mean density results suggest an increasing trend in the elephant population. While the recent census estimates a population of 148 elephants for the park, the forest staff involved in the elephant driving operations and farmers living adjacent to the park boundary opine that the number to be more than 200, with the migratory elephants moving in, during the harvesting season.
- The relatively small size of this park, already fragmented and degraded, coupled with a high density elephant population is increasing human elephant conflict… Not mention the Illegal mining, cattle grazing and theft of natural resources from the forest. The seasonal migratory elephants also coincides with the peak harvesting season, thus making the crops highly vulnerable to raids. All these factors result in the increasing number of encounters between the man and elephants, leading to loss of crops, human lives and of elephants.