When the Indo-Bangla border in Assam is sealed completely by next year an exception could, however, be made for elephants to pass through with the help of jumbo-sized gates.
According to officials of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the project could see light of the day in the coming months as the Bangladesh government is expected to send a positive response soon.
“Talks are in advanced stages with Bangladesh. We are waiting for their approval which we hope will come soon. Once we get a green signal from them work will begin,” Project Elephant director R K Srivastava told PTI from Delhi.
As part of the plan, forest department teams from Assam, Meghalaya and Bangladesh will sit together and identify places along the international border which are used by the jumbos to cross over to the other side.
Mammoth sized gates will then be constructed along such routes which have been part of elephant corridors for hundreds of years but have now become fragmented due to increasing human settlements leading to man-elephant conflicts.
“The gates will be manned by security forces guarding the border. The task of the forest department personnel will be to keep track of the movement of elephants and inform the guards to open the gates for herds to cross the border safely,” Srivastava said.
Amidst concern over infiltration of migrants from Bangladesh, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had recently issued instructions to seal the 284-km-long border between Assam and Bangladesh by June 2017.
Officials said a surveillance mechanism would also be put in place to keep tabs on suspicious movements through the corridors meant for the pachyderms.
Being large-bodied, elephants need a large habitat for survival and are therefore known to migrate into the neighbouring forests of Bangladesh from Assam and Meghalaya.
Any obstruction on their seasonal migration routes often leads to conflicts including loss of lives and damages to crop and property in villages.
It is estimated that Assam is home to about 5000 elephants while Meghalaya has another 1800 jumbos. Altogether there are six elephant corridors along the Indo-Bangladesh border in these two northeastern states.
“I fully endorse any attempt to restore traditional migratory routes of elephants that have been blocked by anthropogenic linear constructions such as boundary fences,” said Wildlife Trust of India’s CEO Vivek Menon, who also leads the Asian elephant specialist group of IUCN.
However, he cautioned that just making a gate will not solve the issue unless the corridor is long enough and has enough cover for elephants to cross over.
WWF’s Dipankar Ghosh stressed on the need to have a transboundary agreement with Bangladesh to ensure safety of wildlife.
“Both sides have to take lot of mitigation measures. Whether the animal belongs to India or Bangladesh both sides should take responsibility for safety of the wildlife,” he said.
Assam-based wildlife NGO Balipara Foundation’s Robin Eastment said elephants use the entire forests along the border for movement.
“But once if they know that they have a safe and secure gate to pass through then they are smart enough to use that route from the next time,” he opined.
Declared as India’s national heritage animal, the number of elephants have been on a decline due to loss of habitat and fragmentation of forests.