Why wild animals in Munnar are venturing out onto streets during the lockdown

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Thanks to the nationwide 21-day lockdown, the roads are empty, the pollution levels are low and it would now appear that animals have declared freedom in various parts of the country. Wild elephants, sambars, bison, Indian civets and leopards are venturing out in various towns. Forest officials and environmentalists say this phenomenon is only set to rise in the days ahead.

Few days earlier, a video of a small, Indian civet walking along a deserted road at Meppayur town in Kerala's Kozhikode district went viral. The animal walked on the road, obeyed traffic rules and even used the zebra crossing. Wild elephants are frequent visitors in hill stations like Munnar. After the lockdown, however, elephants are enjoying the empty roads and grasslands in the Munnar-Mattupetty and Periyavara, Kannimala routes.

Prasad Ambattu, a photographer and resident of Munnar, said, “After the lockdown announcement, wild elephant herds, including baby elephants, have been roaming along the road in the Periyavara route. The elephant herd reached close to 200 meters of Munnar town in the last several days.” 

“Elephants and other wild animals are largely sighted in various parts of the forest border areas. Two days ago, a bison reached Munnar town during daytime. Munnar’s favourite tusker, Padayappa, enjoys the lockdown period, roaming in and around the town,” said Prasad.

Dr PS Essa, elephant expert and former director of the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), said, “There is no disturbance and human presence attracting the large-scale venturing out of elephants in various parts of the country. Yesterday, an official from the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady called and informed me that after the lockdown, wild elephants reached near the KTDC-owned Periyar House hotel. In recent years, wild elephants have not reached this area.”

Essa suggests, “We should monitor the air quality of tourism centres after the lockdown in the state, especially in the forest border areas of Munnar and Thekkady.”

Former Assistant Wildlife Warden at the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary and Thrissur Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) PM Prabhu said, “There are three aspects alerting wild animals to venture out from forest areas: smell, sound and vision. Herbivores, like wild elephants, deer, rabbits and bison can easily sense the smells.”

Prabhu explained, “Since the lockdown began, there have been no unnatural sounds and smells in the forest border areas and it attracts animals to venture out of the forests to towns and areas where humans live. Since there has been no human presence and disturbance, they freely venture out without fear.”

“Some animals, including deer and wild pigs, are constantly coming out at night time to eat the food waste from tourism centres and hotels near the forest areas. But now they don’t get the food and they will venture out to the human living areas,” he added.