MISAMARI, Aug 30 - At a time when the ongoing human-elephant conflict has become an issue of major concern in the state and rendered many people homeless, besides maiming or claiming many lives, the farmers of a particular area near the Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary in Sonitpur district have been able to set a rare example and protect their crops from the far-ranging wild elephant herds, thereby blazing a trail of co-existence with the slatey grey giants.
Farmers of this nondescript Jwkhangsree village along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border under Misamari Police Station in Sonitpur district are now becoming the focal point for both the media and the Sonitpur Forest Department for their elephant-friendly activities.
If one visits the area, many tree-top houses known as machans are seen, which serve as lookout posts. Locally popular as tongee ghar, the villagers keep a lookout from these strategically placed platforms and often manage to chase away the marauding elephant herds which forage for green fodder after straying from the nearby Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary. As a result, no lives are lost or crop damaged, primarily due to eternal vigilance by the tenacious villagers.
In this context, it may be noted that as per the official record, due to the perennial problem of human-elephant conflict in Sonitpur district, seven persons were killed in 2005-2006, while 285 houses were damaged, in 2006-2007, five elephants and 10 persons were killed and eight persons injured, while 221 houses and 642 bighas of standing crop were damaged.
In 2007-2008, eight wild elephants and 6 persons were killed and 4 persons injured, while 367 houses and 510 bighas of standing crop were damaged. In 2008-2009, three wild elephants and two persons were killed and three persons injured, while 109 houses and 109 bighas of standing crop were damaged.
Similarly in 2009-2010, one wild elephant and 6 persons were killed and one person sustained injuries while 99 houses and 101 bighas of standing crop were damaged. 2010-2011, three wild elephants and four persons were killed while 23 houses and 23 bighas of cropland were damaged.
Likewise in 2011-2012, five persons were killed and three injured in wild elephant attacks while 71 houses and 10 bighas of standing crop were damaged. In 2012-2013, two elephants and seven persons were killed and eight persons injured while 79 houses and 46 bighas of crop were damaged. In 2013-2014, one wild elephant and 9 persons were killed and three persons injured, while 112 houses and 66 bighas of crop were damaged.
In 2014-2015, three wild elephants and eight persons were killed and 5 injured, while 116 houses and 535 bighas of standing crop were damaged. In 2015-2016, seven wild elephants and 16 persons were killed and 6 persons injured, while 120 houses and 492 bighas of crop were damaged.
In 2016-2017, six wild elephants and 10 persons were killed and two persons injured, while 194 houses and 99 bighas of crop were damaged. In 2017-2018, nine wild elephants and nine persons were killed and six persons injured, while 187 houses and 82 bighas of crop damaged. In 2018-2019, one wild elephant and five persons were killed and two persons injured, while 171 houses and 1,115 bighas of standing crop were damaged. In 2019-2020, one wild elephant and three persons were killed while 100 houses and 74 bighas of crop were damaged. This year till date, 3 houses and 4 bighas of crop have been damaged.
Saurav Barkataki, honourary wildlife warden of Sonitpur district, who has been vocal on this issue, alleged that the outstanding cases of ex-gratia payment totalling Rs 28,79,250 is yet to be paid to the concerned victims, which may be considered as a grand failure of the present dispensation at Dispur, thereby resulting in justice denial to the victims.
Barkataki added that though the Forest Department was perennially plagued by manpower shortage, yet a sizeable section of staff were working dedicatedly despite the surmounting odds and occasional bursts of anger of the victim villagers. The situation, he felt, was yet to attract the attention of the higher authorities of the department, nay the government.
�If things continues like this, the department will face a very tough challenge in the near future,� he speculated.
However, the farmers of Jwkhangsree village, who have been maintaining a balance of sorts with their wildlife-friendly modus operandi since several years now, mentioned that they were pained to hear news about poisoning or electrocution of wild elephants.
�We maintain a mutually rewarding co-existence with the wildlife and spend much time in the tongee ghars, from where we tactfully chase away the wild elephant herds from the farming areas, but never harm the pachyderms like some unscrupulous people often do.�
Prafulla Boro, a wildlife lover of the area observed, �because of the presence of vigilant villagers, poachers do not dare to enter the wildlife sanctuary,� thereby contributing significantly towards wildlife conservation.