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Scientific management of elephants need of the hour
ROOP CHOUDHURY

Forest officials at a plantation on a patch of forest land in an elephant habitat in Goalpara district. – Photo: Goalpara Correspondent
 GOALPARA, Oct 7 - The jungles of Rangjuli under Rangjuli range, Lakhipur under Lakhipur range, Pancharatna under Goalpara Sadar Range and Krishnai under Central Range are home to herds of Asian elephants in Goalpara district. Elephant herds are led by a matriarch and live within a complex social structure of females and calves while the male members tend to live in isolation or in smaller bachelor groups. These animals need extensive land areas to meet their needs like water, food and space. An elephant can feed up to 18 hours and consume a large amount of plant matter.

 However, the greatest threat to Asian elephants has been their habitat loss, leading to man-animal conflict and despite their habitat destruction, these elephants usually with an average herd size of around 25 or less are well protected by the Forest department in Goalpara district.

Talking to this correspondent, DFO KN Das said that the need of the hour is a scientific management policy for animal protection and conservation and also, for mitigation of the human-elephant conflict, where the stakeholders can formulate strategies by involving community member together for large-scale restoration of animal habitat in spite of the challenges of the negative impact posed from potentially harmful man-elephant conflicts. He also said that there is a need for scientific assessment of the state of knowledge around the elephant, its ecosystem and societal interactions, especially in the conflict zones as these elephants no longer enjoy secured habitat.

Das informed that there are two categories of forests – Reserve Forest (RF) and Proposed Reserve Forest (PRF). The district has 51 reserve forests covering an area of 24,255 hectares and 54 Proposed Reserve forests with an area of 12,827 hectares. The DFO added that wanton destruction of forests in the district due to human encroachments, rubber cultivation and other developmental activities have not only fragmented but destroyed their natural habitat and corridors leading to severe man-animal conflict.

Moreover, during the paddy season, herds of elephant travel down in search for food from their respective forest ranges and engage in crop raiding and depredation in human settlements damaging property and sometimes resulting into human deaths. Das said that one possible solution to mitigate the man-elephant conflict is to convert the large tract of Ajagar hills into an elephant sanctuary which is spread over an area of 4,240 hectares. He also cited the name of noted conservationist and elephant trainer Parbati Barua of the royal family of Gauripur and mentioned that elephants were found in this geographical region since ages.

Meanwhile talking to this correspondent, Forest Range Officer Santana Medhi said that the Forest department has initiated a community-based approach by involving communities for spatial and temporal crop raiding and movements of elephants. Further, she informed that a total of 35 Haati Committees or Elephant Anti-Depredation Committees have been formed in the district where some members of the community have been trained and engaged as field monitors to record any incidents of human-animal conflict and to trek the movement of these elephants in their respective areas.

Moreover, of late a key initiative taken up by the Department in association with local conservationist Prasenjit Ghosh, Makri Haati Suraksha Committee and Rangagora Haati Suraksha Committee for conservation of wildlife where around 10,000 saplings were planted including fruit bearing/ non-fruit and banana trees on a patch of 40 bighas for creating a buffer zone with human settlements living in close proximity in the Pancharatna range. This will not only increase foraging or grazing area, but also provide a temporary shelter for elephants and in the long term, matured trees will reduce confrontation with humans. Medhi also said that the department has sent a proposal to the National Highway Authority for building an overbridge at Nicinta and Makri where disruption of the elephant corridors will take place during the construction of four-lane highway.

Medhi also informed that the Department has been advocating the need to empower local communities for mitigation of the human-elephant conflict and crop protection by taking up various protection methods of which methods like early warning system for alerting villagers in advance that elephants are approaching, erecting barriers i.e., digging trenches for preventing elephants from entering a particular area and deterrents like chilli smoke, spotlights, bursting crackers are some of the commonly used by communities in the district.

On the other hand, the Forest department has been gradually overcoming major challenges and winning community trust and their involvement in habitat protection and animal conservation as the number of incidents of human-elephant conflicts have come down this year, Medhi further added.

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