Elephant depredations may force shutdown of Assam tea plantations

Guwahati, Nov 25 (Inditop.com) Angry over frequent depredation by wild elephants, an influential students’ group Wednesday threatened an indefinite shutdown of tea plantations in Assam.

The immediate provocation for the Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association (ATTSA) to threaten to cease work was the killing of five plantation workers in separate incidents by rampaging elephant herds in northern Assam in the past one week.

“The situation in the tea garden areas is simply becoming unbearable with people unable to sleep at night and there is always a lurking fear about elephant herds entering the plantations,” ATTSA leader Pallab Lochan Das said.

The ATTSA is demanding measures from Assam’s wildlife authorities to keep elephant herds from entering plantation areas.

“We hear about houses being damaged, people injured and killed, and agricultural crops mowed down by elephant herds in tea garden areas. This has become a great threat to our people,” Das said.

“We shall be forced to take the path of agitation, including cease work in gardens, if the government fails to protect our people from rampaging elephant herds.”

There are some 800 tea plantations in Assam with the state accounting for more than 55 percent of India’s annual production of about 900 million kg.

During the past two months, herds of wild elephants have been wreaking havoc in several parts of Assam with the jumbos fancying the paint-peeling moonshine that many of the tea plantation workers brew from fermented rice.

“This could be one reason for elephants targeting tea garden areas as locals are known to brew rice beer and they simply cannot resist the strong smell of the fermented moonshine,” said A. Das, a wildlife expert.

Meanwhile, wildlife authorities in Assam have warned that the human-elephant conflict has reached alarming proportions with villagers poisoning to death at least four wild elephants in the past two months by lacing toxic chemicals in homemade moonshine.

“The modus operandi is the same with locals either mixing poisonous substances in country liquor or mixing it with jackfruit, sugarcane and other eatables fancied by elephants,” the official said.

Experts say wild elephants have been moving out of the jungles as people are encroaching upon animal corridors which has led to an increasing number of elephant attacks on villages.

In 2001, close to 40 elephants were poisoned to death allegedly by the villagers.

“The battle between humans and elephants is very serious with the beasts killing people and destroying properties and locals attacking the elephants and causing heavy casualties,” a wildlife official said.

A report by the wildlife department said wild Asiatic elephants have killed about 260 people in Assam since 2001, while 280 elephants have died during the period, many of them victims of retaliation by angry humans.

Satellite imagery shows villagers encroached on about 280,000 hectares of thick forests in Assam. Villagers in the past drove away marauding herds by beating drums or bursting firecrackers. Now they poison the animals.

“We have found that some elephants were brought down with poison-tipped arrows,” the official said.

The last elephant census carried out by wildlife authorities recorded about 5,500 elephants in Assam, more than half of India’s count of 10,000.