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Dodging elephants in the dark

Villages in elephant-rich state have been facing a tough time surviving moving herds of tuskers that trample everything, and everyone, in their way.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2017 10:17 IST
Utpal Parashar/Debabrata Mohanty/Sanjoy Dey/Tanmay Chatterjee
Utpal Parashar/Debabrata Mohanty/Sanjoy Dey/Tanmay Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Guwahati/Bhubaneswar/Ranchi/Kolkata
Elephants,Assam,Jharkhand
A baby elephant crosses the road. People in villages that come in the paths of elephants have been carrying out nightly patrol to avoid more deaths. (Sanjoy Dey/HT File Photo)

In villages of elephant-rich states, night time has virtually become a period of curfew as moving herds of elephants have resulted in several people’s deaths in the past week.

Elephants kill one person a day in India with 1,144 people becoming their victims between April 2014 and May this year as human-animal conflict intensifies in and around country’s forest.

As a precautionary measure, forest departments in several states have advised villagers to remain indoors after sunset in winter months – a time when elephants move in large herds, trampling crops and villages which come in their way.

Locals have also taken it upon themselves to hold night patrols and take measures to scare the animals away.

Assam

Bolai Munda, 65, became the last victim of human-elephant conflict when he was out in a grazing field on Sunday morning in Udalguri district.

Forest department estimates 48 people have been killed by elephants and 70 elephants had died in this conflict in Assam in the first 11 months of this year in the state which has witnessed decrease of forest cover of 3,000 sq kms in last 28 years.

Over 500 elephants and 785 people had died in this conflict between 2006 and 2016.

“We spend our nights awake trying to chase away elephants from our fields using torches, drums and spears,” said Bhupen Bora, a resident of Samaguri in Nagaon district of central Assam.

Bibhab Talukdar, CEO of Aaranyak, a Guwahati-based wildlife NGO blamed rapid decrease of dense forests, construction activity near elephant habitats and desperation by villagers to save their lives as the reason for rising conflict. Forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma said this problem can be dealt only by raising awareness.

Jharkhand

Curfew like situation prevails in Gumla’s Nawdiha village where a deserted elephant has returned with forest department asking villagers not to venture out in the evening. The department has also asked villagers to avoid sleeping in rooms where foodgrains are stored.

“These are precautionary measures to ensure villagers’ safety,” Gumla divisional forest officer (DFO) Ajit Kumar Singh. Rajendra Oraon, a Nawdiha villager, said the officials have asked them to keep fire burning outside the house and always keep torchlight ready at night.

In other assaults, two elephants went on the rampage in villages of Thethaitangar block in Simdega district on Wednesday night. They damaged about half a dozen houses in the villages. Similarly, a herd of 18 elephants damaged many houses and destroyed several acres of land in Gamhria block of Seraikela-Kharswan district. A herd of elephant of injured a 10-year-old boy in Ramgargh’s Dulimi block.

Odisha

In around 60-odd villages of Nilagiri, people don’t venture out as an elephant herd from Dalma sanctuary in Jharkhand is on a rampage in the area.

“If you need to pick something from local shop, pick it up in daytime,” said Ratikanta Mallick, who reminds his family to lock main gate and not venture out.

While the likes of Mallick keep themselves locked, others like Satyanarayan Singh of nearby village climbs up makeshift perches on trees. Many in these villages have migrated to safer places, said forest department officials.

The elephant raids are also happening in Sundargarh, Mayurbhanj, Angul, Gajapati, Ganjam and Khurda districts with forest officials using LED lights with siren to scare away elephants from human settlements. Experiments such as spraying stool and urine of male horses and burning cow dung laced with chilli powder have failed.

Former honourary wildlife warden Jayant Mardaraj said efforts to drive away elephants will not work unless the herd desires to move back on their own.

West Bengal

Forty-two- year old Shitala Mandi leaned against her mud hut near Jhargram town and recollected moments from the frightful night when a rogue elephant trampled her husband, Sambhu, five years ago. This year too, the elephants have targeted several villages in the hinterland.

In the last five years, around 50 villagers have died in elephant attacks in south Bengal districts and hundreds of houses and a huge quantity of crops destroyed by wild pachyderms. “In 2017 however only six people died in Bankura and West Midnapore districts” said Shakti Shankar Dey, chief conservator of forest, western circle.

First Published: Dec 23, 2017 10:16 IST