Activists up in arms over spurt in elephant deaths

Wildlife activists admit that herds of elephants have frequently been invading human settlements in search of food.

Guwahati: Data collected by conservationists has revealed that as many as 60 elephants have been killed in the last 10 months in Assam. All of them died due to unnatural causes — mowing down by trains, electrocution, poisoning and falling in ditches, especially in tea garden areas.

The frontline biodiversity conservationist group Aaranyak, which has been undertaking site-specific measures to mitigate human-elephant conflicts, has advocated policy change and synergy between the departments of forests, agriculture and electricity in order to deal with the problem.

Wildlife activists admit that herds of elephants have frequently been invading human settlements in search of food. They damage houses and crops in the process. The activists said that elephants are considered a problem as they damage crops and property during the harvest season.

However, the conservationists said, “Unlike rhinos or tigers, elephants are not a state or national animal. They evoke less public sentiment even when they die.”

He added that while public reaction is almost spontaneous in case of rhino deaths, which are followed by strong condemnations and demands for exemplary punishment, the death of elephants fails to cause the same outcry.

“Unfortunately, we don’t see such outpouring of public support for elephants,” he said.

Referring to the death of 60 elephants in the last 10 months, the activists argued that it clearly shows that elephants are not getting priority when it comes to conservation of animals.

It is significant that Northeast India used to be home to more than 10,000 wild elephants. That was around 25 per cent of the world’s elephant population. However, over half of elephant habitats of the region have been lost since 1950.

The coordinator of WWF India’s Elephant Conservation Project recently said that the population of Asian elephants is showing a decline.

While rhinos in the state are confined to national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, an estimated population of 500 elephants in Assam have habitats across all reserved forests. The state has five elephant reserves covering an estimated area of 10,967 sq-km. Only a small portion of these reserves is in protected areas in the form of national parks or wildlife sanctuaries, while the rest are reserved forest areas.

However, activists have welcomed the initiatives of some tea gardens, which in collaboration with WWF India, have developed a protocol to mitigate human-elephant conflicts (HEC). After successfully preparing and implementing the protocol to bring down human-elephant conflicts in their plantation areas in Sonitpur district, the Apeejay Tea has announced that it would collaborate with other tea companies to develop a broad human-elephant
conflict management protocol, which can be followed by allto solve the man-elephant conflict.

The director (species and landscapes) WWF India, Mr Dipankar Ghose, recently said that a consistent approach to manage conflict related to elephants across Assam’s tea gardens could help protect Asia’s largest terrestrial species and reduce human and elephant mortality.

Referring to their collaboration with the Apeejay Tea of HEC management, he said, “We will be able to scale up these initiatives to other plantation areas with the support of the local community, Assam forest department, elected public representatives and civil administration.”

The garden management has invented several mechanisms in collaboration with WWF-India to mitigate HEC. It is significant that a large number of the deaths caused by human-elephant conflict were recorded from the tea gardens of Assam.

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