COMMUNITIES CO-EXISTING PEACEFULLY WITH WILDLIFE IN ASSAM
By Aishwarya Das Pattnaik
Jacinta Hasda, a 50 year old head nurse in the Sessa Tea Estate Hospital line remembers how elephants continuously raided houses around her colony. Similarly, in 2016, Jacinta’s own house was also raided multiple times by wild elephants in just a month’s time. The tea estate is raided frequently by wild elephants who come in search of food from the Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary and the Nameri National Park situated along the foothills of the Himalayas in North Assam. Increase in cases of negative encounters between humans and elephants in the region made it very difficult for the entire community who lived in constant fear in the region.
Realizing the grave need to address this challenge, WWF India in association with Apeejay Tea and local communities installed a one-kilometer long low-cost power fence around the tea estate. These fencing systems help detract elephants from entering human-inhabitated areas, ultimately preventing negative human-elephant interactions.
Much to the relief of Jacinta and other community members, this effort proved to be a lifesaver as zero cases of negative human-elephant interactions have been recorded from the region, post the installation of the fence!
Nayanmoni Das, a resident of Gamani village, Sonitpur district in Assam used to spend sleepless nights in a machan during the paddy season to guard their crops and houses. The village falls under the Balipara Forest Reserve in Sonitpur district- a key elephant habitat in the state. But, over the years, the northern part of the district has become a hotspot for negative human-elephant interactions. Wild elephants move into the paddy fields which is just next to the forest, in search of food-putting the community under immense pressure to burn the midnight oil and keep a close watch on their fields every night. Due to lack of awareness, the community members in a desperate attempt to save their crops from a possible elephant attack installed lethal electric fences which were fatal for elephants. Noticing the need to intervene, WWF India in collaboration with local communities helped install non-lethal and low-cost power fences around the paddy fields. For Nayanmoni and other farmers from the village these fences are helping fend off marauding elephants and other herbivores and prevent negative human-wildlife interactions in the region.
Not only that, WWF India has also trained Nayanmoni to install these fences and look after its maintenance. Today, Nayanmoni is a known low-cost and non-lethal power fence technician in Assam who encourages and help other communities to build such fences around croplands or houses to avoid conflict with elephants.
The writer works as a Senior Communications Officer with WWF-India's Marketing and Communication Division.