Assam Conflicts claim lives of 80 elephants, 70 humans every year

By Tanuj Dhar Guwahati, March 19 : It was around 5.30 on a winter morning that news spread among the locals that an elephant calf had likely perished in a village paddy field in Assam's Udalguri area. The body was being dragged by the calf's mother. About six in the morning, a crowd had gathered to watch a lone female elephant drag a dead calf behind her. Observers claimed that this elephant and the calf were a part of a big herd of 80-100 elephants that had ravaged that same crop field the previous night. The presence of the people could not frighten the mother elephant, who was determined to drag the dead calf with her. She rolled the body over using her hind legs. During the course of the following eight hours, the dragging continued until around 3 p.m., when her patience ran thin and she likely realised that trying to revive her child was pointless. She gently moved away and into the forest, following the river. For about a week, neither she nor the herd returned to the location. The incident happened in November last year in one of Assam's main areas of conflict between humans and elephants, Udalguri district. According to records, these conflicts have claimed the lives of 200 people and more than 100 elephants during the past 12 years. Assam has witnessed a rising number of human-elephant conflicts in recent days. People have lost their lives, similarly jumbos also died. Assam Forest Minister Chandra Mohan Patowary recently said that more than 70 people and 80 jumbos die on an average every year in human-elephant conflict in the state. According to Patowary, when more people occupy the elephants' natural habitats, the animals are forced to leave their homes in search of food, which results in confrontation with people. He claimed that during their regular movements, they also come into conflict with others. "In addition to causing damage to property, more than 70 people and 80 elephants are killed on average annually," the minister stated. Patowary said that there are currently more than 5,700 elephants in the state. According to the ministry, 1,330 elephants have perished between 2001 and 2022, with the year 2013 seeing the most deaths with 107 pachyderms, followed by 2016 with 97, and 2014 with 92. The state government has paid roughly Rs 8-Rs 9 crore in compensation for damage caused by the elephants. Rathin Barman, joint director of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) told IANS, "The human encroachment in the elephants' habitat is a prime reason for the increasing number of conflicts. We should always keep in mind that elephants are not acquiring our place, rather we are putting pressure on their space. That is why they are coming out of the jungle primarily in search of food." The change in the human tolerance level is also another reason behind the rising number of conflicts in Assam, according to Barman. "We can see that elephants were also intimidated, which sometimes led to unfortunate incidents," he added. Another environmentalist commented that whenever there is an incident, the people and the administration talk about taking all measures, but within 5-6 days everybody tends to forget what had happened. This is because the conflicts get repeated at regular intervals. /IANS


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