Trunk call: The herd of elephants on a sandbar near Majuli. Picture by Parikhit Saikia
Guwahati, June 14: A herd of wild elephants has been declared guilty of encroaching on chapories (sandbars) near Majuli, but the tourism department is not complaining.
As the elephants feed, bathe and frolic on the banks of the Brahmaputra, Assam gets to savour an animal twist to the 1812 Swiss Family Robinson tale, where a family builds a home on an unknown island after being shipwrecked in a storm.
The jumbo family, in this case, plodded down from Arunachal Pradesh in 1997 and slowly made the chapories their home, earning the sobriquet of “river elephants”.
“Nowhere in the country would one find such a unique herd of elephants which has made a few chapories (sandbars) on the Brahmaputra near Majuli island its home. This herd can become a major tourist attraction,” a senior official in the tourism department said today.
The decision to place the herd on the tourism map was taken following a suggestion by a group of experts from the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Assam Elephant Foundation.
The four-member group conducted a thorough study on the particular herd of about 70 elephants recently.
Kaushik Barua, one of the experts, said: “Several calves were born since they arrived on these islands. It is a rare phenomenon for elephants to stay put in a particular area for such a long period. It’s unique.”
He said the herd is frequently spotted on the sandbars during a ferry ride to Majuli from Jorhat.
“It’s a treat to watch elephants grazing on the sandbars during a ferry ride to Majuli,” Barua said.
With increasing conflicts with humans, the forest department took up the Herculean task of chasing away the herd to Kaziranga National Park. However, after staying in Kaziranga for a couple of months, the herd returned to the sandbars again.
“There is no use trying to chase away the herd. The elephants have made these sandbars their home. We also tried to chase the herd to Dibru-Saikhowa National Park but in vain,” Gunin Saikia, assistant conservator of forest, said.
He said the chapories along the Brahmaputra in the particular area had tall grass and fruit-bearing trees — which takes care of the elephants’ diet.
“The herd keeps shuttling between these sandbars by swimming across the river,” he said.
There are more than 40 such small and big sandbars on the Brahmaputra in the area.
Award-winning British filmmaker Tom Roberts is also planning to make a film on the particular herd of elephants.
Roberts visited Majuli in November last year to conduct a survey on the herd. The BBC and the European Union have already sanctioned funds for his two-hour film.