Guwahati: A day after a fire-wielding mob attacked a herd of elephants in Assam’s Golaghat district, the state forest department with assistance from police Tuesday raided Thuramukh village, nearly 8 km from Golaghat town, in search of the culprits. But no arrests have been made so far.
The incident was reported Sunday night when a herd of over 100 elephants was taking shelter near a tea garden at Thuramukh after midnight. An FIR was lodged Monday evening after videos showing a frenzied mob hurling flaming sticks at the elephants from a close range were shared by wildlife enthusiasts on social media.
The villagers had earlier attacked the herd with arrows, injuring one of the elephants, as it struggled to escape.
Bhaskar Deka, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Golaghat division, told ThePrint: “If people would have let the elephants take shelter for the night in the tea garden instead of attacking them, this would not have happened. If the public does not cooperate, it is next to impossible to control such a situation.”
“The villagers pelted stones at the forest personnel of the Jurria Dollong beat under Golaghat division,” Deka added.
Residents, however, said the forest department has repeatedly failed to take action on time when such incidents are reported. The herd seen in the video had been foraging in the area over the past three months and had destroyed paddy fields, residents added.
“At least 6-7 elephants have been injured due to the conflict. One elephant has been hurt in the eye and has probably lost vision. Some have bumps in their head, others have swollen legs. Some villagers attacked the elephants with bows and arrows,” Pranabjyoti Saikia, a resident, told ThePrint.
“The herd was out in search of food. Since the past three months, the elephants have destroyed nearly 20,000 hectares of paddy fields in revenue villages under Moromi circle. They spend time along the Doigrung river. The foresters tasked with keeping the herd away from crops are not equipped to handle the situation,” Saikia added.
Encroachment and habitat loss
Assam has increasingly been witnessing human-wildlife conflict for the past two years since a reduction in dense forest areas has forced animals to move out in search of food and water.
The conflict has become regular in fringe areas of reserved forests, with both humans and animals suffering deaths and injuries.
According to residents of Golaghat, 20 elephants and 15 people died in the district and adjoining areas in the last two years.
But a forest official, who didn’t want to be named, contradicted the figures, saying only four persons had died in less than two years due to human-elephant conflict in the district.
“The issue of human-elephant conflict can be solved only when the bigger problem of encroachment is solved. These incidents occur frequently in the fringe areas of Nambor-Doigrung wildlife sanctuary. Moreover, we are manning these areas with only 48 per cent staff,” said Deka, Golaghat division’s DFO.
Of the 1,03,793.87 hectares of forest cover under the Golaghat division, an area of about 9,715 hectares fall under the Nambor-Doigrung sanctuary.
Sources told ThePrint that approximately 93,000 hectares of forest land, including reserved forest, proposed reserved forest and wildlife sanctuary remains encroached in present day, leaving less than a thousand hectares of reserved forest in Golaghat area to wildlife.
“There are 24 tea gardens in the area. If the tea garden authorities spare some wet land for creating an artificial forest, the elephants may take shelter there during depredation. At least 50 per cent of the problem can be solved this way,” Deka said.
He added that a proposal in this regard has been discussed with the principal chief conservator of forests and wildlife and the deputy commissioner of Golaghat district, and another meeting will be held soon.
Wildlife conservationists raise concern
Wildlife conservationist Kaushik Barua said a landscape-level approach towards conserving elephant habitat has become necessary to ensure that elephant areas are kept secured.
“With an average of 75 deaths yearly on both sides due to human-elephant conflict, the situation has reached catastrophic levels. Areas like Golaghat are seeing never before retaliatory attacks on elephants, including fire-bombing,” he said.
Azam Siddiqui, master trainer in animal welfare with the Animal Welfare Board of India, said: “It seems the authorities have completely surrendered to the brutalities of the people. Elephants are Schedule One (of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972) species and also considered the ‘National Heritage Animal’. But all of that is now a thing of the past. Allowing such brutalities to go away without a conviction will only invite more offenders.”
Tiger strays out of Kaziranga into village
Meanwhile, a Royal Bengal tiger that strayed out of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve Tuesday has created panic among villagers in Napam area of Tezpur in Assam’s Sonitpur district. But a few hours later, the tiger was given a safe passage.
People cheered as some ran helter-skelter on being chased by the tiger that is currently taking shelter inside a grove. One person has received minor injuries in the incident, Divisional Forest Officer Sonitpur, Ranjit Konwar, told ThePrint from the site of the incident adjacent to the river Brahamputra.
Forest and police teams arrived at the spot to control the crowd and aid the rescue operation led by experts from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC).
Wildlife veterinarian Dr Samshul Ali, who led the CWRC team, told ThePrint the tiger has been given a safe passage and it has moved out of its hideout towards east. “If not disturbed and left for the night, it will make way to its destination,” he added.