Forest officials in north Bengal have started sending text messages to warn villagers and their own department about elephant movement so that they can be prepared to drive away the animals before they cause crop damage.
The forest officials have collected the cellphone numbers of several forest villagers and of gram panchayat members and the chief.
The villagers have also been requested to alert foresters near their hamlets in case any stranger is seen. This has been done keeping in mind that poachers may try to kill elephants and other animals.
Manoj Barua, the pradhan of Satali gram panchayat in Alipurduar, said: “On a regular basis, I have started receiving SMSes. We come to know about the exact location of the elephants. Yesterday night, I received an SMS in which it was stated that 42 elephants were roaming in Bhutri, Satali and Bharnobari areas. People in the area also came to know about the elephants.”
He said that because of the exchange of messages, “relations between the villagers and foresters has improved”.
The mechanism was set up after the chief minister said at an administrative meeting in Alipurduar that the man-elephant conflict in the district was worrying her.
Elelphants from the Dooars forests often enter villages and destroy crops. The villagers, in turn, try to chase the elephants, sometimes angering the animals enough to kill humans.
Ujwal Ghosh, the field director of the Buxa Tiger Reserve, said: “We are sending SMSes to villagers as well as panchayat members. We are intimating them about the location of a herd along with its direction of movement. We are asking at least one person from each family to remain awake at night to help foresters. When the elephants try to enter the village, the foresters’ with the help of villagers, drive them back into the forest.”
Binoy Barman, the forest minister, said: “We have already decided to identify the lone male elephants which mostly damage property as well as injure people. If it is seen that a single elephant is involved in several incidents, then we will identify the elephant and will keep it in a big enclosure. Two such enclosures will be made in the state. In north Bengal, such an enclosure will be made in the Buxa Tiger Reserve. We are trying to convince the people not to chase the animal unnecessarily. Sometimes because of this, people suffer injuries.”