How army men at Assam military station ‘coexist’ with wild elephants

By, Guwahati
Jun 05, 2023 03:39 PM IST

Spread across around 3,500 acres, Narangi military station was set up in 1961. It is one of the most important bases of the Indian Army, housing several units.

A group of army personnel were playing football at the Narangi military station in Guwahati in September last year when a tusker entered the field, kicked the ball around a bit and then left leisurely. The players continued with their game, seemingly unperturbed, showed a video that went viral on social media.

Elephants inside the 3,500-acre Narangi military station. Nearly two-thirds of the state is free of construction, with an abundance of trees and ponds. (Photos: Indian Army) PREMIUM
Elephants inside the 3,500-acre Narangi military station. Nearly two-thirds of the state is free of construction, with an abundance of trees and ponds. (Photos: Indian Army)

Read here: How army men at Assam’s Narangi military station ‘co-exist’ with wild elephants

The incident showed the unique relationship between wild elephants and army personnel stationed at Narangi. It is a rarity in a state that is in the news several times every year due to conflicts between pachyderms and humans and the casualties incurred by both sides.

Spread across around 3,500 acres, the Narangi military station was set up in 1961. It is one of the most important bases of the Indian Army, housing several units, including the headquarters of the 51 Sub Area.

The station is located adjacent to Amchang wildlife sanctuary, a reserve forest spread across 78.64 km and situated on the eastern fringes of Guwahati. The sanctuary is home to a variety of wildlife, including elephants, who move from there to other areas in search of food and water.

The pachyderms enter the military station almost everyday, military personnel said. Since this has been happening for decades, they always ensure the safety of the elephants, whom they fondly call maharaj (king), they said, seeking anonymity.

Amchang is home to a large herd of elephants comprising around 90 pachyderms. Sometimes the entire herd traverses through the station, while on other occasions single elephants or smaller groups can be seen foraging or swimming in the 30 plus ponds and water bodies in the area.

“The forest existed much before the military station came up. Hence, wild animals, including elephants, have the right of way. They have the first right. This translates into everyday affairs,” said major general RK Jha, the head of the station. “We have taken steps to ensure that there is peaceful coexistence with the elephants without hampering our activities.”

Read here: Govt hires elephant whisperers to stop damage to crops in villages

Army personnel are trained with the help of locals, scientists and foresters on how to live in close proximity to the elephants. They are instructed to stop their vehicles and allow the elephants to cross and not disturb them in any manner. At some places, portions of walls have been broken to allow the pachyderms to move around easily.

“If a herd of maharaj is walking past and there’s a gate which is closed, the sentries have been instructed to open them to allow maharaj and his family to move to a pond or any other area,” Jha said. “We don’t burst crackers or use hooters that might scare the elephants. Even the pachyderms seem to understand that they are safe. We live in good harmony.”

There have been instances when humans have tried to scare away the elephants, or they have damaged vehicles and shops. But most of these incidents have happened on the periphery of the military station and not within.

“It’s a good example to show how Narangi military station in particular and Indian Army is particular is ensuring peaceful coexistence with the animals while discharging our duty of protecting the nation,” Jha said.

Assam has around 5,700 wild elephants, official data show. Decreasing forest cover and the search for food, especially during the winters, leads many pachyderms to leave reserve forests, resulting in conflict with residents who use various means to scare away the animals and protect their lives, property and standing crops.

More than 70 people and 80 elephants are killed on an average annually in the state because of human-elephant conflicts, state forest minister Chandra Mohan Patowary said in a statement in the assembly in March.

“Whenever we hear man and elephant together, the word conflict usually crops up. But we in Narangi have been able to change that and ensure peaceful coexistence,” said brigadier Sanjeev Chopra, deputy head of the military station. “There’s an unwritten rule at our military station that we must create an ecosystem for that. This is being implemented on the ground in a practical and realistic manner.”

Nearly two-thirds of the Narangi military station comprises of construction-free spaces where there’s an abundance of trees and ponds. The army has a state-of-the-art communication hub in the station with high-resolution cameras placed at strategic locations with the dual purpose of ensuring security of the area and keep track of elephant movement. Whenever a large herd or an individual is sighted, a message to relayed to all so that the animals are not disturbed in any way.

Army authorities keep a close touch with the state forest department to alert them about elephant movement, and if there’s any untoward incident where a pachyderm gets injured or trapped.

Read here: Elephant family enjoys a bath during summer heat. Watch

“We are in close coordination with the army authorities at Narangi military station to ensure the well being of the elephants that come to the area to use it as a transit to move to other areas,” said Jayashree Naiding, divisional forest officer, Guwahati wildlife division. “Forest department personnel from the Guwahati wildlife division and the Kamrup East division are stationed in the area 24/7 on a rotation basis.”

“There are times when the elephants move out of the military station area and go to nearby residential and commercial places. When that happens, we try and ensure that there’s no conflict and both elephants and humans come to any harm,” she added. “The army authorities in Narangi have demonstrated that through concerted efforts of all, there can be peaceful coexistence between the wild pachyderms and humans.”

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    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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