Pachyderm vs human

Marauding elephants in Assam's Kaziranga national park killed 70 people last year

Published: Saturday 31 January 1998

Despite warnings from conservationists, Kaziranga became the unfortunate scene for the worst human-animal conflict over habitat in recent years. The angry people of Kaliabor, a small village some 200 km east of the state capital Guahati along the fringes of the Kaziranga national park, went on an indefinite hunger strike to attract official attention to the steep rise in the number of attacks by wild Asiatic elephants of the park. The strike was sparked off by an incident in which two villagers were killed by a rogue tusker, taking the toll in the region to 25.

The villagers are demanding that forest officials strengthen efforts to prevent further attacks. Though the villagers had complained to the forest authorities about the large-scale depredation caused by elephants in the area for the last 12 years, the problem has worsened considerably in the recent months.

According to the forest officials, careless deforestation is largely responsible for the pachyderms' straying out of their own habitat in their search for food. The elephant has become a beast of terror for the local communities, causing extensive damage to the area's crop yield and endangering life and property. The villagers are forced to harvest paddy crop much before the appropriate time because of these elephants, claim the local population.

Wildlife officials admit that in 1997, about 70 people were killed by elephants in Assam. The state has some 5,500 Asiatic elephants. To minimise further conflict between man and beast, rogue elephants would be shot and new elephant management programmes will reportedly be chalked out.

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