When Humans Coexist With Invading Elephants

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By Partha Prawal

With conflicts between man and elephants on the rise in Assam, when no help from the forest department is made available, a village in Kamrup district upholds an exemplary example as to how one should face one’s adversity.

Sixteen-year-old Probin wasn’t sure if the route he had taken to reach for his friend, Jatin’s, home at the next village was safe or unsafe. All he knew was that he had to be there by 1 pm for attending Jatin’s elder sister’s marriage.

‘Don’t go by the jungle’, his mother warned him before he left home. But the adrenaline rush among youngsters of his age is always high and ignoring his mother’s warning he took the way through the jungle, which crosses through an elephant’s corridor. Even though Probin was aware that it was that time of the day when elephant’s walked pass through the way to the other side of the jungle, yet he decided to give it a try.

“When I was half way through, a fear began creeping inside me for I was alone in the jungle and if I encountered the elephants, I knew I was in for some serious trouble,” recollected Probin while talking about a summer day on 2013, when he ‘realised’ that elephants are not that ferocious as people think they are to be.

“I was almost in the middle of the jungle and probably was crossing an elephant’s corridor and there they were, a herd of around 10-15 elephants, all staring at me with amusement. I was sweating profusely and was I froze for a moment. The jumbos kept staring at me. I knew I had no chance, even if I ran; I would be mauled to death. But after a minute or so, the elephants moved back and made my way clear for me to pass. Without making a delay, I walked as fast as I could and after crossing them when I looked at them from a distance, they were already gone,” he added.

Loharghat’s 16-year-old Probin Rabha is one among the very few lucky ones who has had a narrow escape from death. Man-elephant conflicts in the region are quite rampant and every now and then someone or the other is being trampled by these ‘gentle giants’. But even then an uncalled truce seems to exist among between the humans and the jumbos in Loharghat, a hamlet in South Kamrup, some 45 kilometres away from Guwahati.

“Around 90 pc of our crops are explored by the wild elephants that come down from the nearby hills. But with time, we have learned to live in harmony with them and in the past decade there has been no untoward incident in our village. They come, feed themselves and leave,” recalled Merina Rabha of Deopani village under Loharghat Forest Range.

But the awareness and the ‘uncalled’ truce didn’t come in the village overnight; it is but a collective effort of the villagers that is aptly led by Diya Foundations, a local NGO.

Even though the NGO’s prime focus is to bring about a social change in the region, it, however, has been putting a lot of emphasis on the conservation of biodiversity and aware people in protecting the flora and fauna of Assam.

Martin Rabha, a local of the area and a core member of the NGO further informed that the people in the village have thought to crop only for the elephants so that they don’t destroy the crops meant for people’s feeding.

Rabha informed that they are trying to make special arrangements for cropping banana plants and other vegetation, especially for the jumbos so that they don’t enter human habitat.

The project was planned long back, but it has not been materialised yet the way it should have been. However, he is hopeful.

It may be mentioned here that NGO in collaboration with various institutions and like-minded persons have conducted awareness campaign programs, village to village meetings in most affected villages generating awareness on how the community can join together in conserving the natural resources and wild species and also regenerate livelihood in a sustainable manner.

But even after such awareness it is not that there are no conflicts, in fact, there are even deaths reported from the area.

“See, we have invaded their homes and we will have to pay for it. Even after such large scale destruction, we continue to invade more. Elephants in general are quite calm, but once you make them angry, even the gods can’t protect you,” said Kanthiram Rabha, a senior of the village.

“We try numerous ways to keep the elephants away, sometimes even kill their little ones and bury it on their path so that they don’t cross over. But acts like these have a mythological truth only, in reality these make the jumbos more ferocious and the end result is this what we have been witnessing now,” Rabha added.

However, Rabha felt that a wind of change is actually blowing across the region.

“In the past, people feared, but now, the elephants and humans have become like those friends who never call each other but understand each others’ feelings quite well. They don’t disturb us, we don’t disturb them. We keep food for them, they come, take those and leave,” he said.

“When the forest department didn’t answer our calls of distress, we knew we will have to find alternative ways to combat the raiding elephants. And we are happy that we have just done that,” he was quick to add.

And amid this tussle, yet life moves on; somewhat peacefully.

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