Haridwar is gearing up to host the Maha Kumbh Mela next month, which will witness one of the largest gatherings of people in the country. A large area along the banks of river Ganga has been reserved as Maha Kumbh area, where facilities for lodging and holy-baths will be established and ensured for lakhs of pilgrims.
The township of Haridwar is located along the right bank of Ganga. It cherishes supreme religious repute, and holds unparalleled religious significance amongst Hindus across the globe. Haridwar also lies in close vicinity of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve (RTR), which is endowed with rich population of elephants, tigers and leopards, in addition to other wildlife.
The western boundary of Haridwar town runs along the Eastern boundary of RTR’s Haridwar and Ranipur Ranges. The left bank of Ganga runs in alignment with the Shyampur reserve forest of Haridwar Forest Division - interspersed with townships of Kangri, Gaziwali, Shyampur, Sajanpur Peeli, and Tantwala.
The wildlife in the Shyampur reserve forest has traditionally been dependent on the Ganga for their water requirements, and elephants have been known to cross over the river to reach the agricultural fields on the other bank. This crop raiding by elephants is a regular phenomenon, and has been a serious management issue for Haridwar Forest Department’s administrators.
The man-elephant conflict in Haridwar Division has caused loss of lives to both men and elephants alike, and each event underscores the need to ensure long term solutions for preventing the presence of elephants in human settlements. Since May 2019, such incidents have been reported from newer areas in Haridwar and nearby areas of Kankhal, Bairagi Camp, Krishna Nagar, Devpura Ahtemal, Mayapur, Gadawali, Jagjeetpur, Kishanpur, Missarpur, Nurpur Panjenhedi, Pherupur, Jiyapota, Katarpur, etc. The elephants in these areas are the ones that reside in Shyampur and are known to cross the Ganga to raid crops, but have deviated from their traditional movement paths and are now venturing in areas of human settlement.
On May 19, 2020, two tuskers died due to a train impact in an area surrounded by residential colonies and campus of Kangri University. This is an area where elephants weren’t reported in the past. Clearly, the deviation of elephants from their recognised routes has been impacted by various factors, forcing them to come in direct conflict with humans in newer areas. The elephants of Shyampur reserved forest have faced interference in their traditionally established routes and corridors due to the ongoing widening works along NH 74.
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This repeated appearance of pachyderms in Haridwar township and nearby areas is a cause for worry- for most of these areas fall within the Kumbh Area, and will be commissioned for Maha Kumbh arrangements. Therefore, reliable management interventions have to be made to prevent the elephants from reaching these areas.
Leopards, too, have been frequently sighted, occasionally around the reserve’s boundary, residential areas and ashrams near Har-ki-Pauri.
Reportedly, over 50 human were killed and 214 injured in such human-wildlife conflicts in 2020. Out of these, 24 were killed in leopard attacks and 13 by snake bites. Besides this, eight people have died due to attacks by elephants, two each by bear and wild pig attacks, and one in a crocodile attack.
In 2019, 58 people lost their lives and 181 were injured, while in year 2018, total 60 were killed leaving 234 injured, followed by total 39 people dead and 285 injured in 2017 and total 69 humans lost their lives with 463 injured in 2016 in human-wildlife conflicts.
Interestingly, in 2019, snakes caused maximum causalities (19 ) followed by leopard (18), elephant (12), bear (4), tiger (3), wild pig (1), and crocodile (1).
JS Suhag, chief wildlife warden of Uttarakhand told NewsClick, “Forest department is fully geared up to take various mitigating measures to avert any incidence of wildlife attacks on people during Maha Kumbh in Haridwar.”
Neeraj Sharma from the Haridwar forest division explained about these measures. “There is an area extending approximately 70 km in the Maha Kumbh region which is also frequented by elephants for water and food. We have taken a slew of preventive steps to deviate elephants from this route. For this , a 42 km long solar fence has been erected. A stone wall of 3 km has been built near the camp site from Kankhal to Bishanpur. A 3-km trench has been dug up from Gauri Shankar to barrages in Haridwar," he said.
Further, five watch-towers have been installed at Devpura, Tirchhipur, Rasipur and Bhogpur, he added.
He also said that the forest personnel have been equipped with binoculars, torches, tranquilising guns etc to meet any challenge. Men in three vehicles have been assigned the task of capturing the rough monkeys.
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Around four-five elephants have been radio-collared to keep vigilance on the herd movements.
According to Sharma, some leopards have become so accustomed to human habitat that they spend a major part of their active night life in human areas. Areas like Motichur to Raiwala in Haridwar have seen a large number of human casualties around 14 people in 2017. "This area will have a large human presence during the Maha Kumbh. Therefore, this area presents a major challenge to contain any events of leopard conflict. In addition to this, areas along BHEL, Ranipur,Tibri, BHEL Residential Sectors from 1 to V, Bilkeshwar Colony, Hill Bypass adjoining Har ki Paidi also need to be on high scrutiny; while Shyampur, Gaziwali, Kangri, Tirchi Pulia, Sajanpur Peeli will present concerns," he added.
In such case, he said, a leopard rescue centre at Chidiyapur is kept ready to rescue leopards from any conflict area.
A large diversity of serpents are found in Haridwar and nearby townships. They are often found in houses, schools, shops and other buildings. The interface of Ganga riverfront and mainland serves as a preferred niche for the serpents The common snake that comes into human areas (In frequency of their appearance) is the Indian Rat Snake. Though non-poisonous, its large body, swift movement and aggressive nature cause immediate panic to onlookers. The second most-common category is Python. They are non venomous, but dangerous for their strength and bite. Third is the spectacled Cobra which is lethal and very common in human areas and agricultural landscapes. Other lethal species like Russel’s viper, Krait and King Cobra also abound in the area.
Though not all snakes are poisonous, the sight of a snake in human settlements leads to a panic among people, often leading to killing of the serpent. “With repeated awareness generating programs, people have been educated regarding the response and behaviour in the events of a snake being found in human habitation. Dedicated Snake Rescue Teams have been deployed at Haridwar, Laksar and Shyampur range headquarters who respond at the information of a snake being found,” said Sharma.
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The river Ganga, near Haridwar, is home to vivid aqua-fauna. Besides a large number of piscean species, turtles, tortoises and crocodiles are also found in the river.
Crocodiles have been found to stray into human habitations, agricultural fields, houses, pisciculture ponds, etc. They have been showing up in areas where they weren’t reported till now, and their encounters have been on the rise. In 2019, a ghariyal was reported from Gaziwali area that spent over a week in the area before disappearing. While most of the crocodile-human interactions occur in areas like Bhogpur, Bishanpur, Kundi, Laksar, Balawali. Tilakpuri. Niranjanpur, Tanda, and Tantwala, crocodiles have been reported from as near as Devpura Ahtmal- which lies opposite to Daksh Temple, and is in the core of the Maha Kumbh Mela Area.
“We have released many crocodiles from the affected area into a large water body created by digging ditches into Rasiyabad range. Throughout the year, the pond has available water,” said a forest employee, detailing the measures taken for rehabilitation of crocodiles that have strayed into areas of human habitation.
(The writer is a Chandigarh-based independent journalist)