Udalguri village finds ‘banana solution’ to elephant menace (Udalguri District, India)


Naresh Mitra, The Times of India

Date Published

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GUWAHATI: Desperate villagers along the India-Bhutan border in Udalguri district have found a way to stop wild elephant herds from devastating their agricultural lands and homesteads — by arranging banana plants for the jumbos to feed on. However, forest officials and conservation experts say while this might be an effective short-term solution to the problem of man-elephant conflicts, it might lead to bigger problems in the long run.

Udalguri district is one of the areas in the state most prone to human-elephant conflicts, with there being casualties on both sides every year. Elephant herds from Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh often descend on the villages here with the onset of the paddy harvest season.

At least five elephants and six persons have been killed here this year alone. While most human casualties come about when herds trample on villagers, elephants die by poisoning, electrocution or falling into deep ditches.

A local conservation activist, Nabajyoti Baruah, along with other villagers, are on a drive to grow and collect banana plants here. “In the early part of November, when a 100-strong elephant herd came to the Hatigor area, people were really scared. The herd broke into smaller herds and dispersed in different directions. The area is mostly tea garden area, and elephants started entering into narrow alleys of villages in search of food. We thought why not arrange banana plants so that elephants can feed on them without venturing into the villages,” Baruah said.

Francis Tanti, a resident of Hatigor, said people from different areas have come on board with the plan and started collecting banana plants in large numbers. “Baruah, along with others, started collecting banana plants from different parts of Udalguri on tractors. The banana plants were put at a place far from human settlements. After feeding on the banana plants, the elephants left the area. This strategy helped,” Tanti said.

However, forest officials and other conservation experts are not enthusiastic about this strategy, saying it might increase conflicts if the elephants get used to ‘pre-arranged fodder’.

“As a conservation strategy, providing banana plants to wild elephants is not a solution. We do not support this method. As people are doing it outside the forest areas, we do not have much say on it,” Dhansiri wildlife divisional forest officer Madhurya Kumar Sarma said.

An elephant conservation expert who did not want to be named said this practice is not sustainable in the long run. “About eight years ago, a similar strategy was adopted by villagers in Udalguri. After a few weeks, it fizzled out. Frequency of elephant herds coming to a particular area where people arrange fodder for them also increases. This increases the risk of conflict,” the conservationist said.

Reserve forests and wildlife sanctuaries along the IndiaBhutan border have suffered large-scale deforestation since the 1980s. According to estimates about 400 hectares of the Bornadi wildlife sanctuary, once a habitat of the world’s smallest pig — the pygmy hog — were deforested and encroached upon. Over 1600 hectares of the 7000-odd hectare Khalingduar reserve forest was also encroached.