May 09, 2017

There is a storm raging in the lush coffee estates of Kodagu and it shows no signs of waning.

Karnataka produces around 70 percent of India's coffee, more than half of which comes from Kodagu. However, the district is going through an ecological turmoil; rapidly shrinking forest land has forced herds of wild elephants to move into verdant coffee plantations, turning them into hotbeds of man-animal conflict.

'Elephants in the Coffee', a 58-minute documentary produced by photographer DK Bhaskar and Prof. Thomas Grant of ClIC Abroad Foundation, USA, explores this fragile relationship between man and beast. Shot mainly around Nagarahole National Park and the surrounding coffee estates, the film is an unsparing analysis of how the animal which was once revered as the living embodiment of lord Ganesha, is now seen as a 'giant menace'.

 loss of habitat has forced wild elephants to stray into coffee plantations. Image Source

The Good City crew caught up with Bhaskar at a special screening of the film at the Press Club of Bangalore. "The main motive behind making this film was to educate people about the problem. We have now reached the pinnacle of the problem, and saying that man is the root cause of everything will not lead to a solution", he said.

Solutions ranging from electric fences to steel and concrete barriers have been tried and most have failed. As Bhaskar says in the film "If you build a 20-foot-long moat, the elephant will walk till the 21st foot to cross it". There are some successful efforts that help save human lives; Tata Coffee which owns 12 plantations covering around 4,800 hectares in the district, uses an SMS based warning system by which  trackers send the location of the herds to all workers, warning them to stay away when elephants are on the prowl.

On the other end of the spectrum are the elephants themselves. Proud, intelligent beasts, their numbers have shrunk from over 3,00,000 to less than 20,000 in a period of 15 years. Most wild elephants are captured and tamed by the mahouts of the Jenu Kuruba tribe, who are paid by the government to take care of these animals for the rest of their lives. It is heart-breaking to see the largest land mammal in a cage - alive, but in servitude.

 Domesticated elephants build giant log cages to hold their wild kin. Once an elephant is captured, it spends 4-6 months in the cage until it is tamed. Image Source

Sadly, there does not seem to be a feasible solution in sight. However Bhaskar is optimistic that the next generation could solve the problem using technology. "Children are the future of elephant conservation in the country and they can rethink the problem. We need smart thinking, smart approach and smart tech to take it forward," he says.

Watch a preview of Elephants in the Coffee here: