To tackle man-animal conflict, Assam youths make a forest for the jumbos

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This year, the death of at least 812 people in the past ten years, in different incidents of conflict between man and the jumbos has compelled the state government to hold series of discussions with wildlife experts, NGOs, forest department and communities to find out a way out to tackle the menace but without much breakthrough. At 115, Udalguri remains the worst affected district
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To tackle man-animal conflict, Assam youths make a forest for the jumbos
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To tackle man-animal conflict, Assam youths make a forest for the jumbos

Guwahati: One of the prices that the states of northeast India are paying for rapid deforestation is the escalating incidents of man-elephant conflict. The north-eastern region of India houses about 10,000 Asiatic elephants, which is 25% of the total world population. Assam, the eastern most state of Northeast India, has seen the death of over 900 people and 400 elephants over the past decade due to conflict between the two- the prey and the predator. Most of the time, the former is the predator.

This year, the death of at least 812 people in the past ten years, in different incidents of conflict between man and the jumbos has compelled the state government to hold series of discussions with wildlife experts, NGOs, forest department and communities to find out a way out to tackle the menace but without much breakthrough. At 115, Udalguri remains the worst affected district.

But the effort of 35 youths in Udalguri, has brought back the hope to the concerned departments with a  simple yet effective method which can solve not only conflict but also contribute towards co-existence.

Close to India-Bhutan Border, in Udalguri district, 110 km away from Assam’s capital Guwahati, the group of youths have turned a barren land of 5,500 acres into a lush green thick forest to divert the jumbos from entering the villages in search of food and rather to keep them at the jungle full of edibles plants and fruits.

Since the year 2007, youths of six villages of Sonaigaon, Goroimari, Sapangaon, Majargaon Part 1, Majargaon Part 2 and Bhairabhpur of Dhansiri Forest Division of Udalguri district had started planting trees upon a 22 sqkm of barren land after two massive floods washed away the vegetation of  Bhairavkunda Reserve Forest. Two floods occurred in 1979 and 1989 by the rivers -Dhansiri from Arunachal Pradesh and Jampani from Bhutan had turned the forest in tri-junction of Assam Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan into a sheet of sand and gravel leaving the nearby villagers prone to attack of elephant coming down from the hills.

“We were a group of 35 youths who were into poultry and vegetable farming. Our villages are always affected by conflicts with the elephants. Many of our relatives had lost their lives in confrontation with the wilds that come down from the nearby hills” said Esmail Daimary, a member of the Joint Forest Management Committee set up in the year 2007 for starting plantation with the help of the forest administration of Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).

“The conflict started growing many folds when the forest disappeared. Earlier the elephants used to come and venture into that jungle for food but after the flood ruined it, they started coming down to the villages from the Arunachal and Bhutan hills in search of food. They would destroy our houses, vegetables and paddies. So we decided to do something about it which can control both flood and the menace of the jumbos” said Daimari.

Initially started in 22 sqkm of land of barren land situated in the western bank of river Dhansiri, the thick forest is now known as the Gedshimani Joint Forest Reserve and it covers an area of 5500 acres.  The thick jungle houses at least 14 lakhs of trees and is home to wild species like elephant, deer, monkey, wild pigs, python and other variety of snakes.

“We have planted a lot of jackfruit trees in the jungle so that the elephants get enough food in the jungle and do not have to come out to the villages and paddy fields. These days, villagers around the jungle, which were otherwise very prone to elephant attack, can sleep in peace without the fear of encountering with a wild elephant” said Esmail Daimary.

In the year 2007, the Bodoland Territorial Council had allotted a fund of Rs.82 lakhs for the first five years to the Joint Forest Management Committee for plantation. Off late, it has sanctioned another sum of Rs. 1 crore to plant 10 lakhs more trees in the barren lands available across Udalguri, one of the four districts which comprises the Bodoland Territorial Area District.

Not only the man- made forest is tackling man elephant conflict, it is also serving as a breeding ground for the jumbos. “From the past three years we have noticed that elephants are coming down from the hills during the mating season, and they are giving birth in the jungle. The jungle has lots of streams from where the elephants can take water. Right now, we have a herd of eight elephants living in the forest along with various other animals”, said Jayanta Kumar Das, a wildlife activist and the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Assam.

 “The solution to man elephant conflict in Assam is to create man made forest to mitigate the man elephant conflict. The foresightedness of these youths is commendable. Now even the government is contemplating on restoring barren lands in and around the forest belts of Assam” said Das.

Not only the forest is contributing towards the ecological balance but also offering livelihood opportunities for these youths as they sell the extra fruits from jungle in the markets across the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts.   The forest is also attracting domestic as well as international tourists with a beautiful eco camp with four rooms inside it.

“This year we hosted tourists from 13 different countries of Australia, USA, China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladeh, Bhutan etc. Among these tourists many are researchers studying man-animal conflict in Northeast India”, said Esmail Daimary.

Right now Gedshimoni Reserve Forest is being maintained by at least 1500 youths from the district under six Joint Forest Management Committees.

Read More : Wild elephant dies due to electrocution in Hojai

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