Enriched Landscapes for Elephants & People in Odisha

Why this project is important

The largest population of wild Asian elephants in eastern India resides in the Odisha State, with approximately 2,000 elephants in the area.

Major threats to the elephants in Odisha include habitat loss, ivory poaching and conflict with farmers who are affected by crop-raiding elephants that leave the forest to find food. The root cause of this conflict can be traced to the degradation of elephant habitat and corridors from mining, quarries, impassable irrigation canals, expanded roads, railway lines and sagging overhead electrical wires all crisscrossing the once richly forested landscape. Despite this, thick forests still exist in Odisha which cover around 23,000 km² of the state, offering significant, contiguous elephant habitat.

These large patches of prime elephant habitat are affected annually by raging forest fires, started accidentally by villagers or intentionally by forest flower collectors setting dry leaves on fire (in an attempt to regenerate flowering plants). These fires not only destroy elephant habitat, but also the plants and seedlings in the forest upon which they feed. Elephant herds are therefore trying to use their traditional, albeit increasingly disrupted routes to find adequate food sources, migrating closer to villages and often resorting to crop raiding to supplement their dwindling food sources.

Desperate and bewildered farmers trying to protect crops from hungry and marauding elephants are losing patience without understanding the cause for an increase in elephant presence. An average of 60 to 65 elephants die from hazards and poaching in Odisha each year with an equal number of humans killed by elephants during surprise encounters.

Project Partner: Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) & Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO)

Duration: February 2017– 2018

Elephant population of Odisha: 1,800 – 1,950

Project goals

1) Improve natural habitat for elephants and other wildlife to reduce movement into human areas.

2) Creating awareness in local school children about elephants and the need to protect habitat.

What we do

As elephants need to constantly move around, Elephant Family and our field partners, WPSI and WSO, are piloting new ways to ensure that remaining elephant habitat contains the food and water necessary to support wild populations.

In 2016, our work in Odisha resulted in the local Forest Department massively increasing their budget by over 40% to allocate more time and resources to fight these forest fires, oversee “controlled burns,” as well as garnering support from local communities who help report and fight off forest fires.

By testing and showcasing elephant habitat improvement methods for the local Forest Department we aim to encourage elephant feeding in forest reserves and areas away from crops by regenerating fodder plants, weeding out invasive species and allowing native plant species to regenerate. Local communities are also encouraged to make educated decisions not to light fires as a way to regenerate plant species in the forest that they want to harvest. When fires get out of control everybody loses.

Local awareness about elephants and their habitat is a key factor in promoting human-elephant coexistence. Awareness campaigns about the need to protect elephant habitat are run across local schools and local tribal communities. These campaigns and workshops aim to assist and motivate women in particular to adopt sustainable harvesting techniques and promote the planting of elephant fodder plants for viable livelihoods.

Read more about Odisha in our November 2018 report here