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Forest Fire Mitigation in Elephant Habitats of Odisha

Campaign by Wildlife Protection Society of India

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In the state of Odisha in eastern India, fragmented forests arduously support an estimated 1,976 wild elephants along with growing numbers of forest-dependent communities. The inevitable conflict between the two, struggling for limited resources, has led to huge loss of human life and property damage, as well as a decline in the wide-ranging elephant population. In 2019-20, Odisha is said to have lost 62 elephants and the human casualty due to conflict reached an all-time high of 104.


Odisha’s forests are deciduous. The trees shed their leaves during dry months and become easy fuel for forest fires. Each year devastating forest fires exasperate the impacts of human-elephant conflict by forcing elephant herds into villages surrounding the edges of forests, in search of safety and food. Of much concern during this critical period is the practice of hundreds of local women collectors of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP), like kendu leaves and mahua flowers. Apart from taking huge risks by entering into elephant conflict zones, these women light un-controlled fires to clear leaf litter under the trees, unaware of its negative effects. Unfortunately, such fires spread quickly in prime elephant habitats and have become indirect drivers of human-elephant conflict.

To reduce the damage caused by human-lit forest fires on Odisha’s prime elephant habitats, we will train about 2,500 local women NTFP collectors (mainly kendu leaf and mahua flower collectors) on the use of controlled fires as a method to contain and prevent large fires. During our meetings with them, a dedicated and experienced Field Officer will focus on the safety measures to take during the controlled burning of mahua leaf litter. He will also generate awareness on the impacts of forest-fires on the distressed elephant populations and motivate the villages’ involvement in preventing further losses.


About 100 forest-fringe villages falling in forest-fire prone locations in the districts of Dhenkanal, Keonjhar and Angul will be covered. These areas are critical elephant habitats that have reported some of the highest incidences of human-elephant conflict.


Since the peak fire season begins from the month of February, we will target our activities just prior to, and during this crucial period. We also aim to strengthen regional efforts of the Forest Department by giving out the contact details of local fire squads as well the Forest Range Offices and Divisional Forest Offices where people can report fire incidences in their areas.

The targeted actions of this project will directly impact the critical forests surrounding 100 fire-prone villages in three elephant-range districts of Odisha. About 2,500 women NTFP collectors will benefit. With training and awareness, they will be able to safely collect forest produce without damaging vast tracts of forests. Prevention of forest fires in these areas will protect important wildlife habitats, allow the re-generation of forests and will greatly contribute in reducing conflict between people and elephants. In addition, the project will generate awareness on elephant conservation and support the efforts of regional Forest Departments.


Since 2010, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) has been identifying and mitigating various threats to elephant populations in Odisha. Over the years, our persistent work has resulted in rectifying hundreds of sagging power lines (that cause elephant electrocutions), detection of poaching, and mitigation of disturbances such as forest fires in prime elephant habitats. Moreover, our role in building awareness for villagers affected by conflict has greatly encouraged community participation in elephant conservation.


In the long term, our aim is to secure a future for Odisha’s elephants, by promoting the co-existence of local communities alongside wide-ranging elephant populations in ecologically viable habitats.

Wildlife Protection Society of India

Wildlife Protection Society of India

Beneficiary Charity

Reetika Maheshwary

Reetika Maheshwary


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