Killer trenches are increasingly spoiling the jumbo tea party in Assam.
Tea planters are digging trenches — at least five feet deep — around their estates to keep elephants at bay.
At least five elephants, under 15 years, have died after falling into trenches dotting eastern Assam’s tea gardens since August.
This “disturbing trend” has shocked many wildlife experts.
“I was appalled to learn that the elephants allegedly died after falling into deep drains constructed by the estates. The tea garden authorities must take responsibility for these deaths and cases should be registered by the forest department,” says Belinda Wright, executive director ofWildlife Protection Society of India.
Officials are trying their best to address the growing problem of human-elephant conflict in the state.
“We are dispatching letters to proprietors and executives of estates adjoining protected areas and near elephant habitats to dissuade them from digging trenches or asking them to make them shallow,” says Suresh Chand, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife).
Forest officials say this a relatively new phenomenon in areas on the southern bank of the Brahmaputra. But reports say that at least seven tea estates in Sonitpur district on the northern bank have had trenches since 2004.
“The trenches are usually so narrow that elephants have no room to maneouvre once they fall. They get asphyxiated when the sides cave in under pressure of accompanying adults trying to save them,” says Anupam Sarmah of WWF-India.
Wildlife authorities are also educating planters that such short-term measures do not help mitigate. They are being encouraged to adopt measures that will help restore elephant corridors.