What does it take to keep a herd of voracious elephants — each three metre tall and averaging over four tons in weight — off paddy fields? A thread as thick as a fishing line and not necessarily as sturdy.
Villagers of Chapanala area in central Assam's Nagaon district are finding out that their economy is literally hanging by a thread woven around their paddy fields to keep elephants away.
The area kisses the Chowang forest reserve bordering Nagaon and Karbi Anglong districts and falls on a prime elephant migration route.
According to forest officials, growing instances of man-animal conflict owing to habitat constraint have been troubling Nalbari, Lungsung, Bodogaon, Borghat, Jiajuri and other villages in the Chapanala area.
Consequently, a dozen elephants and over 20 persons have been killed in the past few years.
Destruction by the jumbos reached such a degree that able-bodied males of these villages would invariably pack off the women, children and the elderly to safer places by the onset of autumn, usually the time when elephants come down the hills of Karbi Anglong.
This year, however, has been an exception thanks to the "thread trick" employed by a local wildlife organisation named Green Guard.
The trick involves fencing paddy fields with threads measuring up to 100 metres, hanging on them tiny bells that are in turn connected to vacuum horns kept in makeshift watchtowers nearby.
When an elephant touches a thread, the bells and horns go off to produce a din the animal finds intolerable, and the people thus alarmed add to the noise.
"We borrowed the idea from an experiment in Zimbabwe's Zambezi Valley four years ago," said Green Guard activist Seemanta Goswami.
"But while wires and electronic bells were used in the Zimbabwe project, we chose threads and vacuum horns to cut down on the cost." He added the experiment has proved to be fairly successful.
A recent report by the wildlife department said wild Asiatic elephants have killed 239 people in Assam since 2001, while 265 elephants have died during the period, many of them were victims of retaliation by angry humans.
This year, 17 people have been trampled to death by elephants in separate incidents.