Habitat crunch

Marauding elephants face villagers' vendetta

Published: Thursday 15 November 2001

with the discovery of three more elephant carcasses, the toll of Asiatic wild elephants killed near Haleswar, 12 km from Tejpur in Assam, has risen to 16. A magisterial enquiry has been ordered into the death of these pachyderms. The cause of these deaths is being ascribed to villagers' wrath against the pachyderms which raided their rice and sugarcane plantations. It is believed that the irate villagers killed the elephants with food laced with pesticides.

According to S K Das, territorial Divisional Forest Officer (dfo) in Tezpur, "Two of the carcasses were found within half a kilometre of each other and the third one about a kilometre away. One elephant started turning blue after some time which is a sure indication of poisoning. The poison is possibly a banned agricultural pesticide called demicron."

Autopsies were conducted on the elephants and samples of spleen, kidney and liver and sent to the College of Veterinary Sciences and to the forensic laboratory, Guwahati. A team of central government officials, including S C Dey, member of the steering committee of the Project Elephant, also visited the site. From July through August, 18 elephants were killed in the Nameri National Park in Assam in similar circumstances.

As forest habitat shrinks and the pachyderm corridors are encroached upon, the human-elephant conflict assumes an ugly shape. The latest incident brings home the urgency of tackling this problem."People are frustrated after years of suffering," says Das. Although scores of lives have been lost and large tracts of agricultural crop are destroyed every year in Assam, the state does not provide adequate compensation to the victims.

Interestingly, villagers in the area believe that they can protect themselves from the straying pachyderms if the forest department provides them with tame elephants. The locals are also prepared to pay for the management of the elephants and their mahouts.

Dey said the entire amount of Rs 1,00,000, sanctioned by the Union government as compensation against human deaths caused by elephants should be given to the people. At present, the Assam government shells out a mere Rs 20,000 as compensation and provides no money for crop damage.

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