Human-elephant conflict claims 64 human lives, 53 elephants this year in Assam

GUWAHATI: The raging human-elephant conflict (HEC) in Assam  has claimed  64 human beings and 53 wild elephants so far this year. The situation apparently  demands urgent attention of the government towards evolving innovative and practical strategies for mitigation.
However, in the last two years, human-elephant conflict (HEC) in Assam has spinned out of control of the state forest department  with casualties in both human and elephants are shooting up.

In 2017, over 60 elephants died in Assam as a result of train hits, poisoning and electrocution and  43 of which were killed  during September to early December 2017. In fact, within the first 12 days of December 2017, Assam had lost 13 elephants.

The state government has done  nothing pragmatic so far to reduce the conflict except increasing the ex-gratia for death of human beings due to elephant depredation outside marked forest areas in the state.

Noted wildlife biologist and conservation leader, Dr Bibhab Kumar Talukdar has commented that the current human-elephant conflict in Assam has to be averted through time-bound steps in the ground. He termed such a strategy the need of the hour.

In Assam, the human-elephant conflict is more intense in Udalguri, Sonitpur, Nagaon, Karbi Anglong, Golaghat and Majuli districts. The main reasons for such raging conflict is  due to rapid decline of forest cover in parts of Assam, loss of traditional elephant movement paths due to linear infra-structure development projects and also due to human encroachment.

Elephants being huge animals  need to move from one forest to other adjoining forests in search of food and water so that forest areas get time for natural regeneration before elephant herds returns to that forest after few weeks or months. But in past few years, natural movements of elephants in Assam have been greatly hampered resulting to increased conflict in agricultural areas with humans.

“Government should immediately introduce grain-to-grain replacement wherever wild elephants destroy agricultural crops outside forest areas so that animosity between human and elephant can be reduced,” Dr Talukdar said.

Deliberate electrocution and poisoning is the main reason of elephant deaths in the last two years. All these are outcomes of unrelenting Human-Elephant Conflict. Most of the incidents in the last two years have happened in and around tea estates  and paddy fields. Erratic rainfall pattern in Assam is also largely responsible for elephants straying into human settlements even in seasons when there is no reason for them to leave their natural habitat .

Train-hits are occurring in newer areas, but what needs to be understood is that, the tracks in these newer areas are either passing through or are adjacent to elephant habitat.
Equally worrisome  is that incidents of poisoning as a retaliatory action using organo-phosphorus compounds is also on the rise. Elephants are getting killed in and around tea estates and agricultural fields because of this. A large number of elephants have died due to electrocution too. Villagers are powering fences through mains and elephants when they come in contact with such a fence seldom live to see another day. A large majority of such fences are outside revenue areas and are being powered by illegally tapping into the mains
Moreover, a large number of elephants have died after coming in contact with sagging overhead power cables.
Dr Talukdar suggests that Railway tracks passing through elephant areas need to be treated as vulnerable with critical sections. Adequate Forest Staff along with Railway Patrol, Anti Depredation Squads and Village Defence Parties need to be engaged to monitor herd movements in and round such areas and pass on correct/relevant information to the concerned Railway Control Room.

He said the entire conflict situation needed be accorded Disaster Status and funds should be procured accordingly from concerned department(s).

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