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It´s high time Nepal emulates the Bengali model of cashing in on wild tuskers
ALIPURDUAR, West Bengal (India), Aug 27: “When numerous villages across India have already leant to cash in on wild tuskers — as a major source of attracting tourists, we on the other side of border are still whining about destruction unleashed by these beasts,” says Arjun Karki, who has recently returned from villages of the Indian state of West Bengal.
“We can certainly learn a lot how to woo tourists. This would eventually benefit the locals and the nation at large,” adds Karki.
Karki is one of the team members who had left for Indian villages to study the impact of tusker attacks there and how they were coping with the challenge.
Talking to Republica, Karki shares that they were astonished to realize how people in those Indian villages have been brilliantly converting challenge posed by wild tuskers into a major tourist attraction.
Indian villagers have been inviting hoards of tourists for what they call ´elephant watching´.
Houses have been turned into homestays with natural and ethnic decoration where both local and international tourists pay for their extended stay.
Karki now strongly feels Nepal can emulate the model and ripe huge benefits.
Describing the villages he had observed during his visit, Karki adds, “They have reconstructed the houses once knocked down by the tuskers into homestays and most of the displaced people have been employed as tourist guides. With steady source of income, their living standard has transformed over the years.”
Some of those same forests in India, which also extend to Bhutan and Nepal, provide habitat to hundreds of wild tuskers.
As a matter of fact, most of the tuskers these tuskers have been sneaking into Nepal and wreaking havoc from time to time.
Around 40 villages just across the border, meanwhile, have been taking maximum advantage of the same hoard of tuskers, according to the Indian villagers.
“There was time when either the tuskers or the villagers died in the conflict. We had to either chase them out or they would flush us out,” recalls Bishwajeet Sah, a resident of Jaldapara village located some 150 kilometers east Nepal´s border.
“But the scene has completely changed now. We have grown affinity for the tuskers and our lives have definitely changed for good.” According to Sah, human-tusker conflict no longer exists in his village and the surrounding ones.
“We always look for better ways to attract the tuskers. Agitating them is now out of the question,” adds Sah. “After all, these tuskers are the ones which bring in tourists and fetch us money.”
There are more than 50 homestays in the Indian forest areas where the flow of tourists have significantly increased over the years.
And, ironically enough, a lot of such tourists are from Nepal, besides visitors from different parts of India, Bhutan – and even the West.
“Today at least a member of family has a job of tourist guide which earns them enough to support their family,” adds Sah.
Thanks to an organization named ´Help Tourism´ in the border town of Siliguri, the message of saving tuskers by creating a friendly environment has now spread far and wide, including to places such as Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts of West Bengal.
All these districts in India are infested with wild tuskers — the same tuskers that enter Nepal in search of food and end up devastating villages and its habitants.
Locals residing in Bahundanda, Shantinagar, Mechinagar. Buddhabare and Khudunabari VDCs of Jhapa district have been regularly affected by wild tusker attacks for years now.
After 1978, at least 37 people in Jhapa district have lost their lives to tusker attacks. In Bahundanda VDC alone, more than 200 people have been displaced.
“The forest areas extending from Nepal to India and Bhutan is major habitation for the tuskers. This is the corridor from where these tuskers freely enter and leave Nepal. Despite this fact, we have been trying to develop elephant tourism and we have achieved a lot,” says Chairperson of Help Tourism, Dr Raju Basu.
As per the research conducted by Help Tourism, more than 600 tuskers have been living in this forest region.
Jaldapara National Park and Kolabari wildlife sanctuary are the major habitats for these tuskers in India.
“Tuskers in the past used to migrate to new places in search of food, but now this habit of theirs has changed. We never know when they enter villages and create a scene,” says Dr Sudha Aryal, who has been studying the movement and activities of wild tuskers in Nepal.
Govt support in India
The government of India has also been lending hands to these locals involved in elephant tourism.
“A group of security guards has been deployed in the forests to help locate the tuskers and inform the locals about their movement. This helps the locals direct the visitors to the direction where they can clearly sight them,” says Shanbhu Ghop, an Indian tourist guide.
According to Ghop, only a month ago, more than hundreds of European tourists were here to view the tuskers.
“Moreover, the government has also helped to boost elephant tourism by planting banana plants so that we could feed them amply and make them stay in one place for a longer time,” adds Ghop.