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Chilli shock for elephants

Authorities are erecting rope fences dipped in chilli powder around paddy fields and plantations to reduce man-elephant conflicts, reports Rahul Karmakar.

india Updated: Nov 14, 2007 00:29 IST
Rahul Karmakar

ELECTRIC FENCING has hardly proved a shocker for Assam’s marauding elephants, so authorities have turned to a cheaper — and hotter — option. They are erecting rope fences dipped in chilli powder around paddy fields and plantations to reduce man-elephant conflicts.

The state Forest Department, in collaboration with WWF-India, has begun ‘hot fencing’ using Bhot Jolokia in Balipara area of Sonitpur district. Bhot is the local term for anything of Bhutanese origin and Jolokia is the world’s hottest chilli measuring 1,001,304 Scoville heat units — nearly twice as hot as the Red Savina

pepper it replaced in the record books in February.

“We have begun work on this chilli-smeared rope fencing,” Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain told the Assembly on Tuesday. “These chillies are too hot even for the elephants, and we are banking on the success of this experiment to check man-animal conflicts.”

Assam’s elephant problem dominated the Zero Hour with Congress MLA Rajib Lochan Pegu highlighting frequent jumbo raids on Majuli, the world’s largest inhabited river island.

“Man-elephant conflict has taken a serious turn because of large-scale encroachment on elephant corridors,” Hussain admitted. He said officials were trying their best to handle the situation. “The problem is beyond conventional control. We have sought help from international experts, but the onus is on each MLA to remove encroachment from elephant corridors.”

Many of Assam’s legislators are accused of settling tribals and migrants on forestland and animal corridors for “territorial gains”.

Suggestions from legislators included domestication and adoption of elephants by tea gardens. This, Hussain reminded, can only be done if the

Centre okays Assam’s elephant capturing proposal.

The Northeast has the world’s largest concentration of wild Asiatic elephants with Assam accounting for 5,246 of them (2002 census), down from 5,312 in 1997. Besides, the state has some 1,600 domesticated elephants, most of them “jobless” following a Supreme Court ban on felling. Since 2001, some 240 people and 268 pachyderms have been killed in man-elephant conflicts across Assam.