(Guest contributor TC Malhotra reports for MetalMiner from New Delhi.)
The rapid growth of mining activities in some Indian states has caused loss of corridors for elephants, resulting in isolation of their population.
Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has also raised concern over the issue, blaming mining as the main cause of elephant habitat destruction. The minister spoke during a one-day conference of officials from the elephant-range countries of India, Botswana, the Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand.
According to Indian news agency PTI, Ramesh has identified coal mining and iron ore mining as the two “single biggest threats” to elephant corridors in central India.
PTI has quoted the minister as saying that increasing mining activities especially in the states like Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh are posing big threats to elephants.
Ramesh believes that the resources should be extracted without devastating the elephant population and corridors. He also “launched a mass campaign ‘haathi mere saathi’ (elephant my companion), which calls for involving people in elephant conservation.
Currently, there are about 40,000 Indian elephants left throughout South Asia. India is home to about 57 percent of the total, but environmentalists say that the future of elephants is constantly threatened as nearly half their habitat has today vanished, leading to a rise in elephant-human conflicts.
Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, are mineral-rich states, but also have the highest number of elephant corridors in the country, which makes them known for elephant-man conflicts.
Environmentalists believe that one of the major threats to the Indian elephant is a destruction of its habitat by humans. Elephants need extensive grazing grounds and most reserves cannot accommodate them. There is also a serious poaching problem, as elephant ivory from the tusks is extremely valuable. Environmentalists have long been raising concerns over decreasing numbers of the Asian elephants, but they have largely failed.
A few years ago, a documentary film on elephants had shown that trucks carrying iron ore in Jharkhand state were often stopped by a tusker for some food.
Indiscriminate mining in these states has destroyed hills, forests and bodies of water in the area, forcing wild beasts to go out and beg.
Truck drivers in Jharkhand state have started calling the elephants “DFOs (divisional forest officers), who charge some fruits or a bunch of bananas before being allowed to proceed.
In a bid to reduce human-elephant conflict, the Orissa state government has identified 14 elephant corridors in the state for safe movement of the animals that frequently come out of their habitation in search of food and water.
The state government has recently announced that the proposed corridors would spread over 870 square kilometers and will be 420.8 kilometers long. This would include three inter-state corridors with West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.
Orissa has more than 90 percent of the eastern Indian elephant population, including a good proportion of breeding adult tuskers, thereby making it a very important state for elephant conservation in the country. The state’s elephant population is around 1,862, according to the Wildlife Society of Orissa.
Elephants are intelligent herbivore animals that live in family groups. The Indian elephant is smaller than the African, but it is still huge. They are about 8 feet tall and weigh up to 6 tons.