NORTH LAKHIMPUR, Oct 28 - The recent tragic electrocution of an adult male wild elephant at Gopalpur village near Kakoi-Rajgarh Forest Beat under Bogeenadi Police Station in Lakhimpur district has once again highlighted the old tale of continuous conflict between humans and wild animals.
The shrinking habitats of wild animals and continuous human encroachment in reserve forests have led to the human-wildlife conflict more often.
The elephant died when it tried to break a bamboo barricade protecting a paddy field which was connected with an illegal electric fence by a local villager.
The wild elephants are usually found in national parks and reserve forests, but clashes outside those jungles are not uncommon with impoverished farmers keen to protect their crops.
Connection of fences on agriculture lands with live electric wires by villagers and peasants has been on for a long time on this inter-State border forest area of Lakhimpur district to prevent wild elephants entering their fields.
Indiscriminate clearance of forest cover and rampant encroachments by people across the inter-State border has been forcing the wild elephants to enter into the human settlements in search of food.
It is the human intervention which has closed most of the natural passages of the wild elephants that dwell in these areas towards the isles of the river Brahmaputra in the post-monsoon season. When the overflowing water of the Brahmaputra recedes following the onset of the autumn, the submerged isles of the river surface with much natural vegetation, including a tall grass called �elephant grass�.
This grass is a favourite food for the wild elephants. The elephants living in the forest areas of the region, stretching from Jonai in Dhemaji district to Gohpur in Biswanath Chariali district on the Arunachal foothills on the inter-state border, used to come in hordes to feast on these grasses in river isles down the Brahmaputra up to Majuli. But human settlements, agriculture lands, tea plantations etc., have disturbed these natural passages of the elephant in recent years.
According to Bikul Goswami, honorary wildlife warden and member of conservationist group Green Heritage, the elephants have their natural habitation from Poba Reserve Forest in Dhemaji district to Ranga Reserve Forest in Lakhimpur district in which they have been using the natural riverine passage of Gale, Jamjing, Chimen and Jiyadhal en route to Kobu Chapori in the Brahmaputra.
The wild elephants also cross the Subansiri river through Dirpai and Joypur Reserve Forests to enter the Duloong-Kakoi-Rajgarh Reserve Forest for food. Their annual movement also moved further west as the elephants crossed the Ranganadi river through Zoihing forest beat to enter Ranga Reserve Forest.
However, Goswami said that the complete destruction of the Dirpai and Joypur Reserve Forests inside the Arunachal border and the construction of the main entrance gate of NHPC�s LSHEP project in Gerukamukh on the elephant passage have severely affected the movement of the animals of the area.
As a result, the elephants enter �human settlements� erected on reserve forests for food, causing problems both for them and the humans. They have become further fragmented into smaller units in various areas of this region.
In December 2006, the pachyderms destroyed 300 houses in Narayanpur in Lakhimpur district and 74 in Majuli. In 2014, they created havoc in Phoolbari area of Lakhimpur district.
Green Heritage sources said that rampant poaching of wild elephants for its tusks and trunks also led to the decline of its population in Lakhimpur district. According to this conservation group, the fragmented elephants were scared away by guns by the people from the foothills of Arunachal Pradesh where large scale tea plantation drives have been on. The tuskers are killed for ivory and elephants aged from six to seven months to three years are killed for their trunks.
Elephant trunks are a favourite delicacy for some tribes inside Arunachal Pradesh. According to Bikul Goswami, no tusker has been seen in Lakhimpur forests in last three years. Though the 2012 Census showed an increase of 5,620 elephants in Assam compared to 5,246 in the 2009, the ever increasing human-elephant conflict in Lakhimpur district has been posing a threat to their population in recent times.
It may be recalled that none of the reserve forests of Lakhimpur district has been selected by the State Forest Department�s plan to undertake plantation of trees in five reserves (Ripu Chirang, Sonitpur, Dihing Patkai, Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong and Dhansiri-Lungding) in 2006.
Noted wild life expert Dr Anwaruddin Chawdhury, who also served as Deputy Commissioner of Lakhimpur, once recommended creation of protected areas for elephants. He also recommended enlargement of the existing protected areas and stopping of fragmentation of these protected areas.