Avik Kumar Chakraborty
To check man –elephant conflict, the local NGO ‘Evergreen Foundation’ of Digboi has started a plantation drive at Lakhipathar forest to prevent the wild jumbos from coming into the village periphery in search of food. The members of the NGO have planted Dillenia Indica commonly known as ‘Ow tenga’ in Assamese. This comes after reports of man-elephant tussle being reported from various parts of the state.
The Lakhipathar forest which is a part of Upper Dehing Reserve Forest is one of the three elephant corridors of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve. It is one of the few remaining contiguous patches of rain forests touching Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar in the east. According to estimates around 295 to 300 Asiatic elephants use the corridor to migrate from one end to the other. However, in recent years the man-elephant conflict has been rising rampantly in various fringes of the forest.
“In an attempt to check elephant depredation we along with the villagers have undertaken a mass plantation of Dillenia Indica tree commonly known as ‘elephant apple’ inside the Lakhipathar forest. As of now, we have already planted 2,600 seedlings inside the forest,” informed Bijay Gogoi, the president of Evergreen Foundation to The Northeast Window. The president of the NGO added that their main aim is to reduce the conflict by undertaking such initiatives.
It needs to be mentioned that recently many houses were damaged by the animals in the Lakhipathar area, the people had to resort to fleeing in a bid to keep themselves safe.
“Elephant frequently come to our village in search of food and sometimes they rampage our houses and create terror in our locality. We have to take the help of crackers to drive them away into the forest,” a local of the area named Dhanmoni Das said.
According to a survey carried out by the forest department in 2011 there are around 204 elephants in Digboi forest division and out of them 80 elephants were from Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary which is an ideal habitat for the elephants. Gogoi along with the active members of ‘Evergreen Foundation’ has been working in the area. They have organized many awareness programs to reduce the man-elephant conflict.
The Elephant move along the Bogapani elephant corridor from Upper Dehing west block reserve forest, Digboi to upper Dehing east block and cross over railway line and NH 38. This corridor lies between the upper Dehing West and East blocks of forest land and passes through Bogapani Tea estate, water bodies and a few human settlements. The railway line has caused the death of seven elephants in a single accident in 2001. In the year 2007, an elephant was killed by a truck in the same corridor. Similarly, the elephant passing through the Golai Elephant corridor face the threat of death.
Gogoi informed that Elephant apple locally known as ‘Ow Tenga’ is one of the favourite food source for jumbos apart from banana stems, twigs, tree barks, bushes, roots and grasses. The aromatic, acid and juicy fruit of the Dillenia Indica attracts elephants. “Earlier, this tree was found in abundance in the forest but people chopped it off for their own consumption. We decided to undertake the mass plantation drive so that elephants don’t have to come out from the forest in search of food,” Gogoi added.
“Every Sunday we take such plantation drive inside the forest to keep away the animals from human habitation. Recently, forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma met with us and appreciated our work. In the past few years we have seen that conflict between man and animals has been growing. We ask the young generation to come with us and support our initiatives,” Bijay says.
Wildlife experts have attributed the growing instances of jumbo depredation on shrinking forest cover and encroachment on elephant corridors which have forced the pachyderms to move out from their ecological space and stray into places of human habitation.