They are revered as God, but are also battered whenever they venture into human territories. Man-elephant conflict is often seen as a situation triggered by the jumbos that venture out of the forest in search of food and water and damage crops. But, in a green patch of north Bengal, conflict has found a new address – the forest land, the elephants’ home.
A herd of 80-100 elephants pocketed in a small forest patch in north Bengal’s Kolabari near the Nepal border face a daily dose of harassment by villagers who either chase them with stones, crackers and sticks or venture close to them to click photographs. The purpose – “to have fun”. A 17-km power fencing along the Nepal border has already cut off the jumbos’ traditional migratory route pushing them into small green pockets in the Bengal side. The fresh activities now threaten to take conflict to the jumbos’ home in the remaining forest patches of north Bengal’s Terai region.
Hyderabad-based RTI activist, Diya Banerjee, who had recently been to north Bengal, was witness to this drama one afternoon when she was travelling along a forest patch in the Kolabari area. “This area is known to have a population of 80-150 elephants sadly pocketed by the fencing on the Nepal border. To my utter shock, within few minutes of our stay, a group of not less than 50 locals swarmed in this forest and started chasing the elephants with stones, crackers, sticks – seems to be a daily dose of activity. I couldn’t imagine the plight of the animals since the conflict is now being created in their home. The herd couldn’t even cross the forest patch to reach their daily resting place beside the Mechi river,” she said, adding that she also observed that many calves were injured and some rubber bullet marks were seen on the adults too – probably the doings from Nepal.
A local researcher, who didn’t want to be quoted, said there are around 4000 households in the area. “The youths here are jobless and depend on agriculture for livelihood. Whenever they get a chance, they venture into the woods to chase away elephants for having fun,” she said. This takes heavy toll on both the sides. In 2015, four elephant deaths were reported only from the Terai region of north Bengal, in 2015-16, fifteen humans were also killed in this region.
Until a few years ago, elephants spending summertime in north Bengal’s Terai region, including areas like Tukriajhar and Kolabari, crossed the Mechi river for their short stay in Nepal. But locals say that in the recent times they have started staying back in these areas, particularly in Tukriajhar, well into the maize season (May, June, July August). The trigger – a 17-km solar fencing in Nepal that blocked the jumbos migratory route in 2015. Back home in north Bengal, their migration route from Kolabari to Lamagumba forest in Kurseong is also being gobbled up by human settlements each day.
“This particular corridor in north Bengal probably doesn’t even exist. The state should immediately hold talks with the Nepal government and also initiate projects like immunocontraception to check jumbo population in N Bengal. Steps should also be taken to increase the elephants’ fodder base,” said state wildlife advisory board member Biswajit Roychowdhury.
Chief wildlife warden Pradeep Vyas said: “We have asked the forest department and requested the SSB to look into this and ensure that no one disturbs the jumbos.”