An elephantine storm in a teacup

The Nature Conservation Foundation‘s EcoLogic blog has been around for some time now and its content is on my reading list. NCF does so well what other eco-research blogs fail to do – present great, relevant scientific information in a thought-provoking and easy-to-read way. Not to mention some high quality writing.

“An apology to the Iyerpadi gentleman”, T R Shankar Raman’s recent blog post on the problem of human-animal conflict, is a great example of science writing – the science is solid but not overwhelming, and it is extremely easy to read. If there are any J-school kids out there who want to take up a career in science writing (still a very, very nascent field here in India), this blog post is a mandatory cut-and-keep.

Raman (those close to him know him better as Sridhar) and his wife Divya work with NCF in Valparai. On this fragile but disturbed plateau in the Anamalais stand some of the last pristine Western Ghats rainforests, fragmented and continuously usurped by tea gardens and eco-tourism that’s heavier on tourism than eco.

Tea gardens are not quite elephant-friendly – they offer little by way of cover, and the bushes grow densely. Elephants use ancient routes to water bodies, on which they depend. Of course, much has been changed (by humans) on these ancient routes. Ergo, the pachyderms occasionally trample through tea gardens and the settlements among them. The animals are also accused by local people of raiding their provision shops. While this, on occasion, has been documented as true by NCF researchers, investigations have shown that many ‘raids’ have been instances of villagers taking advantage of the situation at hand, and conveniently blaming the elephants. In a fragile and sensitive ecosystem such as that in Valparai, the conflict for space and resources between man and elephant is a screenshot of a larger systemic problem – proverbially, an elephantine storm in a teacup.

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