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Enemies of elephants: Odisha real estate agents, ivory smugglers, mining contractors

By Sudhansu R Das 

Over centuries the elephant in Odisha has been closely associated with its economy, culture and politics. The state was known for its mighty elephant army which repelled enemy attacks until the end of the 16th century AD. The kings of Odisha were known as Gajapati for their skill and ability to use elephants in the battlefield.
Some historians said Odisha had 18,000 war elephants. In the olden time, Odisha had exported fine ivory work to foreign countries. The ancient temple walls have the carvings of an elephant army and the scene of elephants boarded on traditional boita (ship) for transportation.
Today the elephants in Odisha are at the receiving end; they are being hunted, poisoned and poached for their tusks. They are branded as trespassers, destroyers of crops and human life; the media paints the situation as human-animal conflict and the debate to show concern for the elephant’s protection has become a meaningless endeavor.
The state needs a development vision which can survive its flora and fauna and contributes to the economy and environment.
Over decades thousands of hectares of forest and agriculture fields in the state have been converted into concrete jungles to boost the real estate, manufacturing and infrastructure sector. The loss of jobs in rural areas, urban centric education, the lure of consumer comfort, lifestyle change due to foreign culture, people’s lack of interest in physical work due to distribution of subsidies and freebies adversely affect the work culture in the villages.
The deterioration of socio-cultural life in villages, lack of quality health care, education and justice delivery system in villages has let the young generation shift to cities. As a result the urban centers expand to all directions devouring forests and villages. The suburbs of Bhubaneswar, Dhenkanal, Jatani, Angul, Sundargarh, Kalahandi, Rourkela, Puri and Talcher etc. are built on forest and agriculture land only.
When the urbanization in Odisha has become alarmingly rapid, the deterioration of forest land is also very fast. The elephant needs a vast forest area to roam around for food. When the forest shrinks and the food is scarce they come near human habitats for food. The best solution to save the elephant lies in understanding the natural sector economy and accepting an economic model which is an extension of nature only.
Elephants were the perennial guards of the forest wealth consisting of rich flora, fauna, hundreds of forest products, mineral resources, ethnic culture and the skill to make precious bio degradable utility and decorative items etc. The presence of elephants reflects the true health of the forest. A live forest is a wealth builder which can tick hundreds of economic activities and serve human society better than anything else.
Over decades thousands of hectares of forest and agriculture fields in the state have been converted into concrete jungles
The biggest contribution of forests is that it keeps the atmospheric temperature under control and protects biodiversity. A vibrant forest prevents the Zoonotic diseases from spreading to human beings. The world has witnessed the dangerous consequences of the Corona virus attack which leaped from animals to humans in its dangerous incarnation.
It has pushed the world economy into a comatose stage. Nobody knows how many are waiting to leap into the human body. Today Odisha witnesses the summer spell for eight months; the winter and spring has almost disappeared due to erosion of the natural sector. The state loses an inclusive opportunity to grow.
The economic benefit of a healthy forest is too immense to be understood by an ordinary political economist. Forest provides the best quality natural honey, precious wood, bamboo, gum, bee wax, rare medicinal plants, raw materials for industries and pharma companies, biodegradable raw material for making exotic handicrafts, fiber for weaving clothes, very nutritious natural food crops, fruits, edible plants and roots etc. Tribals have the skill to add high value to ordinary raw material available in nature.
The forest dwellers have never faced any problem with the elephants before; it is the real estate agents, ivory smugglers and mining contractors who have found elephants as their enemies. Elephants can be used for patrolling the forest, carrying tourists for showing wildlife in deep forest and the majestic animal can carry woods from the forest to the transport points. Elephants can fetch income in beaches, in forts, in zoos and in tourist places.
Odisha can send trained elephants to zoos and sanctuaries in other states also. The state government can train the tribal to harness the ivory for the artisans who can add high value to it for export. An intricately carved ivory box, sword handle, ornaments and decorative items are more precious than gold jewelry.
The state of Odisha should find the right kind of people with honesty, efficiency and experience who can protect the elephants in the state.

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