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Tea garden power fencing blocking wild elephant corridor

Power fencing at Bhutiachang TE obstructing the movement of wild elephants. – Photo: Kalaigaon Correspondent
 KALAIGAON, July 16 - The construction of power fencing around wild elephant habitats and corridors in and around tea gardens in Udalguri district has been decried by wildlife activists and various organisations. Recently, Paneri and Bhutiachang tea gardens under McLeod and Russel group have been erecting permanent power fencing in their respective tea gardens preventing movements of wild elephant herds numbering more than hundred in Udalguri district raised serious concern. Herds of wild elephants have started arriving at various places of the plains of Udalguri district following age-old traditional routes known as elephant corridors and shelters. Such a traditional elephant shelter is Gomari Bagan, located in between Bhutiachang and Paneri tea gardens under McLeod and Russel Ltd. near No.4 Bhutiachang village, where man and wild elephants have been living together for several decades without much conflict. The herds of wild elephants numbering more than hundred in a herd have been taking shelter in Gomari Bagan, a shady cool place full of Gomari trees. All the government and forest reserve lands had been encroached and forest cover destroyed by people leaving no room for wild elephants to take shelter, except tea gardens of Udalguri district. So the wild elephants like tall tea garden grasslands locally known as Guatemala. They like these tall grasses as it provides them good cover for delivering babies.

The ‘Elephants on The Line’, programme was launched in 2014-15 in Udalguri district to create awareness among people in order to minimise man-elephant conflict in the district. The programme was launched by a few wildlife activists of Assam namely– Mubina Akhtar, Jayanta Kumar Das, Dr KK Sarma, Dipen Boro, Dr Pramnjal Bezbarua, Lisa Mills (USA) etc., in association with the Deputy Commissioner and DFO of Udalguri district. The programme members also involved tea garden managements working in the district namely– McLeod Russel Ltd, Goodricke Tea, Tata Tea etc., in the conservation of wild elephants and also to create awareness among villagers so as to minimise causalities of both man and wild elephants. Accordingly, tea garden managements were requested to support by providing free passage, shelter, drinking water tanks or ponds and temporary habitats for wild elephants in respective gardens. They were also requested to hire at least one domestic kunki elephant to protect houses of workers as well as the villagers. Most of the tea garden managements namely– Nonaipara and Orangajuli of Goodricke India; Bhutiachang and Paneri under McLeod Russel Ltd; Majuli TE under Tata Amalgamated offered cooperation for the cause. The result was amazingly positive.

As a result of the hard works of the members of ‘Elephants on The Line’, death rate of wild elephants came down drastically to three only in 2017, while the number of deaths was 23 in 2014, 21 in 2015, 8 in 2016 and only 3 in 2017 (till now). Unfortunately, the changing situation in 2017 is now posing problems for wild elephant herds. It is noticed that the Paneri tea garden has already blocked entry of wild elephants by erecting power fence. Bhutiachang tea garden too is now constructing power fence there by blocking entry of wild elephants to Gomari Bagan. Thirty per cent of construction has already been completed, forcing wild elephants to roam in the nearby villages, which is likely to increase conflict between man and elephants. Wildlife activist Rajen Boro of Bhutiachang told this correspondent that Gomari Bagan must not be fenced as losing the age-old traditional shelters, the wild elephant might create havoc in the nearby villages.

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