Govt eyes spice route to keep marauding elephants at bay

Marauding elephantsCrops worth crores are damaged every year by raiding herds of elephant.

Elephants raiding farms for sugarcane, bananas and rice could be in for a hot surprise if an environment ministry plan to curb the growing human-animal conflict goes through.

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Growing chillies and pepper, or even capsicum, tobacco and oil seeds, in areas around elephant corridors could help keep the pachyderms away from human turf as these crops are the least palatable to them, experts consulted by the ministry have recommended.

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Crops worth crores are damaged every year by raiding herds of elephants and resolving this problem has been a high priority area for the government as it has to compensate farmers for loss of crops and often, human lives.

While measures such as forming anti-depredation squads and GPS collars for elephants have been tried across states, spicing up their meal through crops such as chillies and pepper was a new and key suggestion made at a national consultation meeting organised recently by the MoEF to examine ways to reduce growing human-animal conflict.

"We think it may be worth trying. Several experts and state governments have also suggested that cropping changes should be attempted to avoid crop damage — a very serious problem in Karnataka, Orissa and West Bengal, among other states," S S Garbyal, additional director general (wildlife), in the MoEF, told The Indian Express.

"The problem lies in convincing farmers as chilli and pepper obviously fetch lower returns than the likes of sugarcane and rice. State governments have been asked to see if this can be attempted."

There are an estimated 28,000 elephants in the wild in India. The levels of conflict are high in many regions but are considered to be very serious in states such as West Bengal, Assam, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

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