Every year more than 400 people and about a hundred elephants die in clashes during the mammals’ passage through inhabited zones in India through which run 88 elephant corridors, according to the nonprofit Wildlife Trust of India, or WTI.
For generations, residents of the Ram Terang village in the state of Assam have suffered with the elephants destroying crops with their trunks.
It is, however, a love-hate relationship, as these tribal villagers are also “very affectionate” towards the elephants, who they fondly call “baba” or father, Rupa Gandhi, Deputy Director of WTI, in charge of the relocation of the village explained to EFE.
Perhaps that is the reason why 19 families “voluntarily” agreed to pack up and leave behind forever, their lands and bamboo-thatched houses in February.
Their decision might also have been influenced by the new Ram Terang village, about six kilometers (four miles) from the original location, that boasts of a drainage system and new red-brick houses with green roofs, equipped with kitchens and bathrooms.
According to Gandhi, the living conditions are much better in the new village, where solar panels have been installed while they wait to connect to the national electricity grid, as opposed to the “inappropriate” dwellings of the former village that offered little protection against elephants.
Moving, however, has taken time.
With the help of the British organization Elephant Family, headed by Prince Charles, WTI bought the land for the new village in 2013 and two years later residents began cultivating the land and in early February they finally began the move.
WTI project head Sandeep Tiwari estimated that at least half of the elephant corridors in the country have “a problem of human habitation.”
In an overpopulated India, dozens of elephants die annually, poisoned by humans, run over on highways, or electrocuted by cables.
In Assam, some tribes also consume elephant flesh and there have been cases of elephants, run over by trains, whose bodies have been picked up by local people for feasting before the arrival of authorities, Tiwari told EFE.
However, the biologist calls these, phenomena of “low” incidence, and appears to be more concerned about the “loss of habitat and fragmentation.”
“The change in land due to development, housing, agriculture and industry has led to fragmentation,” he explained.
Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Delhi, C.R. Babu also warns that the habitat of the elephant “is sinking dramatically” not only in “size but also in terms of quality.”
“The meadows are being replaced by weeds and they are not eaten by any animal, not even an insect,” he told EFE.
According to Babu, shortage of food is also something that is driving animals into areas inhabited by human beings.
With Ram Terang, WTI has relocated four villages and, although Tiwari ensures that these projects are considered a “model situation in which everyone wins,” there’s still a long way to go.