In Assam, people learn to live with wild elephants (Feature, With Images)

March 4th, 2009 - 11:24 am ICT by IANS  

Guwahati, March 4 (IANS) Villagers living next to some 1,200 wild elephants in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park say they are no longer afraid as they have secured their areas with electric fences.

The fence runs up to 27 km combining two areas in Golaghat and Naogaon districts adjoining the park, some 220 km from Assam’s main city of Guwahati.

The wild elephants use to raid homes, paddy and mustard fields in neighbouring areas, and leave a trail of destruction before disappearing into the forest.

The situation worsens in the dry season when food becomes relatively sparse in the park, say local residents.

“Last year, some 12 km in the Kuthori area in Golaghat district were fenced. Another 15 km were fenced this year in the Kohora forest range in Naogaon district, covering at least seven villages,” Dilip Deori of the NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) told IANS.

However the problem is not confined to wild pachyderms alone.

Apart from some 1,290 wild elephants in the park, according to a 2005 census, there are rhinoceros, wild buffaloes and deer, among others, which raid crops outside the protected area.

Around 1,000 hectares of cropland, including about 40 hectares in Kuthori, are now protected by the fence, says Deori, who is implementing the work.

The aim of the project, launched by WTI in collaboration with the Assam forest department, is to prevent human-elephant conflict in Golaghat and Naogaon districts by helping people to protect their properties and save lives.

Last year, a villager was trampled to death by a wild elephant in the Mohpara area in the Kohora forest range, he said, “but after we installed the fence, there was no incident of elephant depredation”.

Six more villages in Kohora, including Lukhrakhonia, Doomjan, Bosa gaon, Kohora-1, Kohora-2, Sildubi and Rangajan, were fenced this year. More areas would be fenced depending on the need in the future, he added.

Deori says the project has been a huge success since it started late last year. “Earlier, people could protect just 25 percent of their standing crops from wild animals. This year they could reap a 100-percent harvest.”

Environmentalists say that the human-elephant conflict has been a major obstacle towards conservation of these animals. Elephants are poisoned to death in retaliatory killings for crop raiding. Many also get killed in accidents.

Large-scale conversion of forest habitat for croplands, they say, is aggravating the problem in the country.

Between 2002 and 2008, six people were gorged to death by elephants, buffaloes and rhinos in the Kohora area, says Donde Gogoi, who lives in Mohpara village. He said after villagers installed the electric fence such incidents have stopped.

“Although deer and wild boar still enter the fields, unlike elephants and rhinos, we can shoo them away. People are no longer terrified.” says Gogoi.

Six more villages in the vicinity, where the electric fence is not directly passing, have also been benefited, serving at least 30,000 people in the area, he said.

“We received about Rs.300,000 as compensation for crop loss last year; this year that amount would be halved if the situation in Kohora remains same for the rest of the year,” said Gogoi.

Kaziranga Park director S.N. Buragohain says that prompt delivery of the compensation amount to people help lower the temper of the villagers; otherwise they would turn their ire against the animals.

“Around Rs.800,000 have been spent for crop damage last year that is directly affected by wild animals in Kaziranga,” Buragohain told IANS.

(Sanjeeb Baruah can be contacted at sanjeeb.b@ians.in)

– Indo-Asian News Service

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