Jumbo problem in land of gajapatis
The New Indian Express
June 22, 2022
The elephant may be India’s national heritage animal but it faces an
unprecedented existential crisis in Odisha. Poaching, an indifferent
administration and a compromised forest bureaucracy are driving the
pachyderm population to an untimely death. Their tusks cause their doom.
Ivory is precious, and its trade, though illegal, is rampant and carried on
with impunity. Four carcasses, including three this month alone, were
exhumed from the Athagarh Forest Division of Cuttack district in 2022.
The complicity of the forest staff is apparent in the manner in which the
news of the deaths was suppressed. Obviously, nobody has a clue about the
disappearing tusks. In nearby Boudh district, the cannabis mafia brought in
hired guns to poach two elephants and decamped with the ivory tusks last
month. Clearly, a poachers’ network is flourishing in Odisha’s forests,
thanks to the collusion of forest officials.
However, the BJD government’s apathetic attitude towards the alarming
situation is perplexing. It took action and ordered a probe by a Special
Investigation Team only after Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan took to
social media last week to flag his concern about the plight of the jumbos.
His Cabinet colleague and Minister of Forests, Environment and Climate
Change Bhupendra Yadav also took up the cause and urged the state
government to initiate stringent action against the poachers.
Elephants have always been accorded a place of reverence in Odisha’s
culture. Such is the reverence that erstwhile kings carried the title of
Gajapati (ruler with army of elephants). Lord Jagannath and His divine
siblings, principal deities for millions of Odias, appear in a Hati Besha
(wearing an elephant attire) before the annual Rath Yatra. Ironically, the
strong and viable elephant population in Odisha has always been under
tremendous stress from mindless mining, linear infrastructure and
ever-expanding urbanisation, leading to serious conflict situations. In the
last 12 years, as Pradhan himself cited, over 970 elephants have succumbed
to poaching, poisoning, electrocution and accidents. CM Naveen Patnaik is a
wildlife lover but his administration, currently, seems to be doing him a
great disservice by its cold indifference.