With assembly elections just weeks away in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the Election Commission of India has enlisted the help of the country’s Forest Department to protect poll-goers from potentially violent disruptions — by elephants.
According to The Hindu, the commission says man-elephant conflicts are “rampant” inKarnataka, and 68 polling booths in Alur, Arkalgud and Sakleshpur taluks in the state’s Hassan district are considered “vulnerable for elephant attacks.” Deputy Commissioner K.P. Mohan Raj told The Hindu that Forest Department experts would escort buses carrying election staff on all 21 routes to the affected areas and a squad would monitor the entire region when elections are underway.
It’s not that the elephants themselves have anything personal against participatory democracy: it’s just that thanks to India’s rapid economic development there are now human populations — and polling stations — where there once was nothing but forest, notes the Wall Street Journal. “The problem is that home ranges are imprinted in the mind of an elephant and that won’t change even if the forest is reduced or a farmer cultivates there,” Dr. Sushant Chaudhary, a faculty member at the Wildlife Institute of India, told the Journal.
The pachyderm problem is a serious one. According to the Times of India, elephants have been disrupting elections since the 90s. The paper reported that a 2011 poll site in Valparai in the district of Tamil Nadu was victim of an earlier elephant attack, when a hungry tusker stormed inside and ransacked the place for its stored grains. In February that year, a group of marauding elephants killed three workers at a tea estate nearby.
This year, the Forest Department also issued a list of dos and don’ts to help police and officials avoid encounters with wild elephants in the region. In the past, it reportedly asked for the help of local tribesmen and used some of its own elephants to drive away the intruders.
According to this 2010 report by the Ministry of Environment and Forests’Elephant Task Force, interactions with the country’s estimated 26,000 elephants are getting more violent. The Wall Street Journal notes that elephants kill about 400 people in India every year. Though the animals’ sacred status as the incarnation of Hindu deity Ganesh (symbol of wisdom and knowledge) generally protects them from being harmed, retaliatory killings are on the rise: the Wall Street Journal notes that about 100 elephants are poisoned by farmers trying to protect their crops every year.