In a bid to mitigate Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) and facilitate much-needed coexistence through community participation, Aaranyak, a biodiversity conservation organisation, has formed seven Rapid Response Units (RRUs) at the grassroots level in some of the affected areas in Assam’s Majuli, Jorhat, Sivasagar, and Tinsukia.
These RRUs were formed jointly by Aaranyak and the British Asian Trust along with community members, in partnership with Assam Forest Department and with support from Darwin Initiative
Aaranyak formed all the RRUs through extensive community consultations held in the first week of July 2023.
The RRUs, comprising of community members, will serve as an early warning mechanism to mitigate HEC and are, therefore, expected to contribute significantly towards facilitation of coexistence in the conflict hotspots.
The RRUs will monitor elephant movement and inform community in nearby villages via WhatsApp serving as a community guarding system.
The first RRU was formed at Ujoni Majuli area in the river island district of Majuli on July 5, following consultations with several community representatives from HEC-affected villages - Jaborshuk Kathoni, Jaborshuk Bosa, Gazera, Anaishuk, Kangmili, Saurukiya and Haladhibari in the presence of Aaranyaks officials. Fifty-eight community members have given consent to be part of the RRU.
Debojit Patir, a Zila Parishad Councillor (ZPC), also attended the consultation and played an important role during the RRU formation process.
On July 6, twenty-four community members joined the second RRU at the community centre of Lebangkola village of Dihing Patkai in Dibrugarh district.
On July 7, the Aaranyak team formed two RRUs. One in Charagua LP School at Chatragua grant in Sivasasgar district with 23 members selected from Charaguwa, Charaguwa grant, Samarajan villages. Another at Majumelia village in Sivasagar district with 14 community members from Majumelia, Demowmukh Mising gaon and Gohaingaon villages.
Similarly, two RRUs were formed by Aaranyak on July 8. Following community consultations, thirty-five community members joined the RRU at Sagunpora LP School, Sagunpora village in Jorhat district.
The RRU members are from Sagunpora, Tinigharia, Miligaon and Japongaon villages. Another RRU was formed at Sankardev ME School, Bezorechiga in Jorhat district. Thirty-nine community members from Bezoechiga, Kaibartagarh, Chumoni Chapori and Hatishal villages joined the RRU.
Lastly, following an extensive consultation led by senior conservation scientist of Aaranyak, Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar, the seventh RRU was formed in Sadiya of Tinsukia district with 22 members from the community.
Aaranyak official Anjan Baruah informed that Village Champions selected by Aaranyak, and the voluntary Village Defense Parties members, formed by the government, have been involved in these RRUs wherever possible.
Each RRU has an assigned spokesperson to coordinate with various stakeholders as well as the core team of Aaranyak.
Aaranyaks research official, Rubul Tanti sensitised the villagers on the impact of HEC on both elephants and people in HEC affected areas and underlined importance of proactive RRUs in mitigating the conflict to facilitate co-existence.
Mridul Konwar from Sibsagars Charaguwa Grant village said, "By forming the RRU and remaining connected through the RRU WhatsApp group, we can communicate across the village and share about elephants movements and minimise negative interactions between community and elephants."
Aaranyaks senior official Zakir Islam Bora, along with Niranjan Bhuyan, played a key role in the RRU formation process by organizing consultations with the villagers.