Friday, May 8, 2015

Nature lovers of US-Bhutan-India working for mitigation of "Man-elephant Conflict" in Assam

Udalguri district bordering Bhutan has been badly hit by human - elephant conflict (HEC) since last five years. As per latest data 13 people and 8 wild elephants in 2012, 19 people and 10 wild elephants in 2013 and 22 people and 7 wild elephants have been killed in Udalguri district alone which has drawn world wide attention as the highest HEC zone in Asia. The district shares 53 KM international border with Bhutan and 14 interstate border with Arunachal Pradesh. Most of the wild herds in big herds generally come down from Bhutan hills to plains of Udalguri following 12/14 age old elephant corridors since time immemorial. Girindra Adhikari, DFO,Dhansiri Forest Division,Udalguri confirms this. Wild elephants start visiting Indo-Bhutan trans boundary villages in April/May and return back to Bhutan hills in November/December every year. People call this seasonal migration.
Unfortunately due to massive deforestation and encroachment on forest lands, most the traditional elephant corridors have been blocked. Establishment of Army or SSB camps on such corridors badly effected elephants movement in the district. Electrocution,food poisoning, and unscientific tea garden ditches are some of the major causes of elephants deaths. On the other hand most of the human casuality occurred due to ignorance and illiteracy. People try to chase away hungry and thirsty wild elephants during night in order to protect their crops and houses.But with no training and equipments they just fall prey to some loner wild elephants.
A few nature loving people of Assam,USA and Bhutan successfully organized an international level conservation program known as “Elephants on the Line: (EOL) on July 24 in 2014.The program have been supported by Nth Carolina State University, USA; USFWS, Asian Elephant Support,Riddles Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary; Dhansiri Forest Division, Udalguri and Udalguri district administration. Since then officials and members of the EOL have been giving training villagers living in the HEC villages near India-Bhutan border. Colorful posters and brochures in different languages have been distributed telling dos and don'ts.Awareness meetings have been organized so as to create awareness among village people. EOL workers have been provided with powerful solar torch lights,GPS, binoculars, laptops, cameras, night vision monocular etc for tracking the movements of the wild elephants. The program serves as a guide for significant community based conservation projects, involving education, training, HEC prevention as short term goals while afforestation,fringe population welfare,creation of elephant refuges and reinstating corridors for safe elephant movements remain some of the long term initiatives. Wild elephants mostly take refuge in Paneri, Bhootiachang, Hatigarh and Majuli tea gardens in the district during their seasonal migration to Assam district. In the meantime Bhootiachang and Paneri tea gardens under MclLeod Russel Co and Nonaipara tea garden under Goodricke Co have taken up a few elephant friendly activities in their respective gardens by arranging drinking water for wild elephants. Recently a team of conservation activists and journalists namely- Jayanta Kumar Das, Assam EOL Coordinator; Mubina Akhtar, Member Assam Wildlife Board and Core member EOL;Dipen Boro, Vice President ABSU and Core Member EOL; Samudra Gupta Kashyap of Indian Express and Bijay Sankar Bora of The Tribune visited HEC areas on May 5 and May 6. They had discussion with DC and DFO of Udalguri on May 5. They had another meeting with DFO,Udalguri and other forest officials at Nonai Range Office at 11 AM on May 6.They had another meeting with Paran Das,Senior Manager,Nonaipara tea garden and Abid Rahman,Senior Manager,Borongajuli tea garden at Nonaipara tea garden to discuss role of tea gardens in mitigating HEC and to arrange temporary shelter for wild elephants to minimize deaths of human as well as wild elephants in the district.