Rapid encroachment of forested areas, including wildlife sanctuaries, by ‘desperate’ humans has generated running man-elephant conflicts in different parts of Assam. In this battle for survival, many persons and elephants have been killed in last several years in different parts of the State.
Although the State Forest department claims to have put in some mechanisms in place to minimize the problem, the results are not encouraging so far. Rather, the man-elephant conflict has aggravated in recent times in the State. The Asian elephants of Assam have been declared ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN.
The figures are disturbing and reflect a stark reality. According to government records, 61 elephants have been killed across the State this year till date due to train hits, firing by poachers, poisoning and electrocution.
As for elephant attacks, 65 persons have lost their lives this year till date in different parts of the State, stated government records.
As many as 1,024 persons have died in the 15-year period from 2001 to 2016 due to man-elephant conflicts. At least 49 persons lost their lives in 2001, 46 in 2002, 44 in 2003, 54 in 2004, 61 in 2005, 80 in 2006, 41 in 2007, 52 in 2008, 82 in 2009, 61 in 2010, 68 in 2011, 84 in 2012, 81 in 2013, 51 in 2014, 118 in 2015 and 65 died in 2016. With the loss of 118 lives, the year 2015 recorded maximum number of deaths due to man-elephant conflicts.
On this issue, noted environmental activist Mubina Akhtar said, “The main reason behind the rise in man-elephant conflict is the rampant destruction of forest cover in the State by humans. It will not do to keep blaming only the Forest department for the rise in number of deaths of elephants and humans.”
“But the Forest department has definitely failed to check encroachment of forest land and increasing destruction of forest cover in Assam so far. In many places, encroachment of forest lands have come about due to political support,” Akhtar added.
When asked what can be done to protect these animals from being killed by humans, Akhtar said the main focus should be on protecting their habitats and securing their corridors. Plantation of banana and bamboo trees in forests should be done in a massive way so that wild elephants don’t need to move out of their forest habitats in search of food, she added.
Man–elephant conflict in Assam, driven by habitat loss and expanding human population, is a complex challenge for biodiversity conservation. The Forest department should take this issue seriously so that unnatural deaths of both elephants and humans can be prevented.