Human -elephant conflict in Deomali a growing concern, remedial measures sine qua non

[ Denhang Bosai ]

The rapid growth of elephant population in Deomali area in Tirap district is becoming a matter of grave concern for the residents as the giant pachyderms enter residential areas in Deomali town every year, especially during the dry winter months, in search of food, and destroy dwellings and properties and create panic among the residents.

The elephants enter the residential areas without any fear, causing panic and fear psychosis among the residents.

There have been a few incidents in and around Deomali where some people were killed by wild elephants.

Sometimes herds of elephants invade and intrude into human habitats, while sometimes a lone tusker roams free at night. They appear mostly at night. However, very often they come to the colonies in the evening itself. In the past, some elephants stole and ate away rice from the FCI godown in Deomali.

Come winter, the helpless residents, especially those who reside in thatched houses, prepare themselves to face the wild elephants. They arm themselves with crackers, torches, sticks, bamboos and other materials to beat and scare the elephants away.

But to their dismay and utter chagrin, the giants are no longer scared of these and continue to move around freely.

During winter, the colonies resonate and reverberate with shouts of residents throughout the night, who stay awake to scare away the beligerent elephants.

Some residents hardly sleep enough at night as they keep awake to keep a night vigil to shoo away the elephants.

But the giants are no longer afraid of humans. Strangely, these wild elephants don’t visit the human habitats during summer. They appear in the township, mostly in the outskirts, during the period from November to February.

This is probably because of scarcity of food in the jungles. The poor residents have a harrowing time during winter because of the havoc created by the elephants. The parents are very much concerned about their little children and elderly people.

As a matter of fact, the entire Deomali area is an elephant corridor. So, it is not surprising that they are found in such huge numbers. The problems and predicaments of the unsuspecting residents have only increased of late due to wanton destruction of the forests around Deomali.

Rampant felling of trees and sawing of timber are going on unabated. There are lots of timber sawing activities in some forest areas, not very far from Deomali town. Some are using sawing machines, elephants and JCBs to cut down trees and pull them. This is going on clandestinely. This is happening at a time when timber operation has been banned in the state by the Supreme Court.

The forest department and the administration need to pull up their socks and check these illegal timber operations. They cannot remain mute spectators when such illegal activities go on right under their nose.

The elephants come out of the forest because their main habitats have been mercilessly destroyed by humans, who are invariably driven by their insatiable greed.

This human-elephant conflict is because of follies and fallacies of human beings. It is because of their overt interference in depleting the forest cover which is home to the elephants.

The forest cover is dwindling day by day, due to which the elephants have no place to stay and plants to feed on. The administration and the forest department need to think out of the box and evolve some mechanisms to arrest the elephant menace before things go out of control.

Relocation of some elephants to dense forests in some other districts of the state is a doable option, for which the state government has to rope in the expertise of wildlife experts and their help.

I was posted at Seppa in East Kameng district during the ’80s and the ’90s. There, people have never seen an elephant because there are no elephants there. Possibilities of relocating some elephants there can also be explored.

Some elephants from Deomali can also be relocated to other states, and even sent to neighbouring countries to check the surging elephant population and balance the growth.

In some places, elephants are also being killed clandestinely because they destroy crops and pose a danger to human life. Some elephants have also perished due to electrocution.

On Friday night (13/01/2023), a huge tusker came very close to my Deomali farmhouse. It came through a nallah which is dry now, and ate a few banana plants and left. It destroyed a thatched house near my garden, wherein a few girl students stay.

Fortunately, the girls were away at that time, staying with their relatives in another colony. Had they been inside the house, it would have been life-threatening and a tragedy as the thatched house was razed down to the ground.

The human-elephant conflict in Deomali is a reality today. We cannot afford to take the elephant menace lightly anymore or run away from the huge problem. Something needs to be done urgently to protect the lives and properties of the residents. The district administration, the department concerned and the people should come out with concrete and viable solutions to reduce the human-elephant conflict that has gone on for too long without it being addressed effectively.

Together this monster of a problem can be solved. Together this literally gigantic menace can be addressed if all the stakeholders sit together and work together. (The writer is retired deputy director, DIPR)