Focus back on human-elephant conflict as 2 tuskers die from ‘poisoning’ in Assam

Updated on Dec 14, 2021 12:03 PM IST

Post-mortem revealed that the pachyderms died due to “suspected poisoning”, forest officials said on Monday, adding that cases have been lodged under relevant sections of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

Human-elephant conflicts in Assam peak in winters when tuskers leave forests in search of food. (Photo supplied by: Assam forest dept.)
Human-elephant conflicts in Assam peak in winters when tuskers leave forests in search of food. (Photo supplied by: Assam forest dept.)

Carcasses of two elephants, one pregnant and the other a male calf, were discovered on Sunday in Borbhetagaon in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam, bordering the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) .

Post-mortem revealed that the pachyderms died due to “suspected poisoning”, forest officials said on Monday, adding that cases have been lodged under relevant sections of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

The latest incident took the figure of elephant deaths in Assam this year to 70. As per official figures, while 24 of these deaths were due to the natural causes, three were due to electrocution, another three because of poisoning, four in train accidents, one due to injury, 18 due to lightning and 17 because of “unknown” causes.

The elephant deaths show just one side of the human-elephant conflict which Assam witnesses every year, peaking in the winter when the tuskers leave forests in search of food. This year, 60 persons have been killed in the state by elephants till date, as per the forest department.

“It is true that human-elephants conflict is on the rise in Assam and it causes lot of deaths on both sides every year. We have been urging public not to get into confrontation with elephants, and assuring them of adequate compensation for damages. But people don’t listen,” said Assam forest and environment minister Parimal Suklabaidya.

The minister highlighted last week’s incident when a two-year-old was killed and her mother was injured when forest staff fired shots to disperse a herd of wild elephants in Kamrup district. On Sunday, two forest guards involved in the incident were arrested for “accidental firing”.

“Besides spreading awareness, we have increased compensation for human deaths due to elephant attacks from 1 lakh to 4 lakh. Damages to crop and houses are also compensated within weeks. Measures have been taken to reduce elephant deaths due to train hits. But more needs to be done,” said Suklabaidya.

As per the forest department, in the past three years, several measures like constitution of anti-depredation squads, erection of solar-powered electric fences to prevent pachyderms from moving towards human habitations and intensive patrolling to monitor elephants’ movement have been undertaken to reduce human-elephant conflicts.

Likewise, setting up of cordination committees comprising forest officials, railway authorities and local people in areas near animal corridors and monitoring of vulnerable sections of railways tracks is also done to stop the deaths of elephants due to train hits.

But wildlife experts feel these measures are neither adequate nor implemented properly for a permanent solution to the annual human, elephant deaths in the state, which sometimes overtake the number of casualties due to floods, which plague Assam every year.

“Elephants are national heritage, but while a lot of attention is given towards rhino conservation, similar focus seems lacking towards saving lives of elephants and also of humans. It’s an annual tragedy,” said Bibhab Talukdar, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based wildlife non governmental organisation (NGO).

“Immediate and doable things like mass awareness, immediate and reasonable compensation for damages, proper coordination between forest and railways officials and adequate facilities to village defence personnel to monitor movement of elephants should be undertaken,” he added.

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Ruling Bharatiya Janata Party legislator, Padma Hazarika, who is also an expert elephant trapper and trainer, said instead of short-term measures, the government should take long term initiatives to bring down the number of human-elephant deaths in Assam.

“Elephants come out of forests during winter months in search of food. Trees which elephants feed on should be planted in protected forests. Instead of trying to disperse elephant herds by using firecrackers or firing shots in air, mahouts and domestic elephants should be used to address the issue,” he said.

“Notified elephant corridors should be cleared of encroachments and addition of more areas to protected forests like Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) should also be done. I have raised this issue in assembly as well. We need to do more to address it,” said Hazarika.

According to union forest and environment ministry figures, between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2020, a total of 129 elephants died due to electrocution, 62 due to train hits and 32 due to poisoning in Assam.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Utpal is a Senior Assistant Editor based in Guwahati. He covers seven states of North-East India and heads the editorial team for the region. He was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times.

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