Electric wire trap poaching is a growing concern in the state; at least seven elephants have died in the last 10 months
The Odisha government has given Rs 445.75 crore to power distribution companies in the state to save elephants from being electrocuted.
There has been a rise in elephant deaths due to electrocution in Odisha in the last few months: Poachers lay live wires to trap the pachyderms and other wildlife. Naked overhead wires and easy access to electricity wire make it easier for poachers to kill the animals.
The funds, granted by the state energy department October 1, 2021, will be used to insulate naked overhead 11 kilovolts (KV) 33 KV and low tension (LT) power lines, an official from the department claimed.
Electric wire trap poaching is a growing concern in the state. Several elephants died in Sambalpur, Dhenkanal, Angul, Cuttack and Keonjhar districts as they fell prey to live wires and were electrocuted.
At least seven jumbos have died of electrocution in the last 10 months in the state. Most recently, an adult wild elephant was electrocuted in Deogarh forest division in Angul district September 12.
Sangita Iyer, founder, Voice for Asian Elephants Society, a non-profit, had written to several distribution companies and government officials, July 14, 2021 on the matter. She referred to two stories by Down to Earth (this and this).
Electricity access to the wire can be obtained from the air breaker (AB) switch station. The AB switches are not barricaded, and poachers exploit this to carry out illicit activities. The switch handles of 11 KV overhead power lines are not insulated, making it easy for poachers to connect live wires to trap the wildlife, Iyer said in her letter.
She wrote the letter to Praveer Sinha, chief executive, Tata Power Ltd, Mumbai; Dibya Shankar Mishra, minister, Department of Energy; Nikunja Bihari Dhal, principal secretary, Department of Energy; Mona Sharma, principal secretary, Forest and Environment Department; Shashi Paul, chief wildlife warden, Odisha; Shenbagham Manthiram, chief executive, Tata Power Central Odisha Distribution Ltd and others.
As many as 120 elephants were electrocuted in Odisha between 2009 and 2019, according to Odisha forest department statistics. Nearly 30 elephants were electrocuted between 2018 and 2020 alone, caused by live wire fence / wire traps laid for poaching.
These deaths could have been avoided, had electricity companies taken precautionary measures to prevent poachers from exploiting structural vulnerabilities such as the unprotected AB switches, Iyer added.
Odisha has become a mass grave for elephants, evidenced in the killing of seven elephants, who were electrocuted in October 2018 in the notorious Dhenkanal district. Nothing has changed over the years, despite forest and electricity officials’ claim of action.
She alleged that the chief electrical inspector did not carry out a mandatory inspection. The distribution company has allegedly not deposited the inspection fee, she claimed.
Poachers were allegedly caught tapping into AB switches for power, where the overhead line is insulated, in 2020. This was reported the same year to the chief wildlife warden, Odisha forest department. Subsequently, a request was made to barricade and prevent access to these AB switch poles as well as small 11 KV / 220 V substations in elephant habitat areas.
These substations should be fenced off in order to prevent public access and in the interest of public safety according to the rules, Iyer’s letter stated.
A total of 282 elephants have died in Odisha since 2018 till August 31, 2021, Bikram Keshari Arukha, forest, environment and climate change minister, said in the Odisha Assembly September 7.
The state was home to 2,044 elephants, according to the 1979 census. The number was 1,930 and 1,954, 1,976 according to 2012, 2015 and 2017 census.
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