Revered and Tortured: How May We Help?

by Alolika Sinha

Elephant death due to accidental electrocution

Photo: Udayan Borthakur

In Assam, the people and elephants share their lands and have lived in harmony for ages. The spiritual belief and tolerance of the people have played a major role in enabling this coexistence. Assam has always been a stronghold of Asian elephant population. But with shrinking habitats, changing land-use pattern, urbanization and burgeoning human population, human-elephant confrontations have increased many folds, often leading to undesirable interactions. The negative interactions are in forms of crop & property damages, loss of human lives, retaliatory killings, poaching to name a few. Most of the affected people are often poverty-stricken farmers and villagers. With their lives, and crops at stake, they get infuriated and their reverence towards the elephants gradually cease. This attitude towards the elephants undermine the conservation efforts to safeguard the species.

Cause of worry

If I am to quote the Assam Forest Minister, about 750 people and 250 elephants died unnatural deaths in the state, between 2010 to 2018 as a result of human-elephant conflict. In the year 2019, approximately 75 people and 60 elephant deaths were reported from the state. Of these unnatural elephant deaths occurring over the time period, the most prevalent cause is electrocution. Of late, human-induced elephant deaths using illegal electric fencing powered through mains or high-tension sagging wires is on rise in the state. In the areas with history of crop-raiding and human deaths, villagers have installed illegal electric fences surrounding their crop-fields or habitation. They draw electricity from high-tension wires or domestic lines, illegally for fencing the desired area and when elephants come in contact with these fencing they are electrocuted to death. There are even instances of human deaths when they accidentally bumped into these fences.

Property damage by elephants

Photo: Udayan Borthakur