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Elephant repellent: the chilli
- This herd was lucky, no chilli bombs flew at them

Siliguri, June 21: The hot chillies that spice up the platter are being used to scatter marauding elephant herds in Kurseong.

Staff in the Kurseong forest division have used chilli bombs to shoo away elephant herds from human settlements, and the initial pachyderm response shows that the animals don’t like the bombs — they receded into the forests.

The foresters call the red chilli power bombs “khursani bombs” in the local dialect.

“For the first time in north Bengal, we are using crackers containing red chilli powder to prevent elephants from entering villages. This is on an experimental basis,” said Y.T. Aden, the divisional forest officer of Kurseong.

Earlier, foresters and villagers would burst crackers, wield torches and fire shots in the air to keep elephants at bay from the localities situated close to forest areas or the elephant corridor that extends from Mechi on the Indo-Nepal border to Sankosh on the Bengal-Assam border.

“We are aware that the elephants avoid chilli and may recede into the forests after inhaling the chilli powder. Our men are simply removing the wrappers of normal crackers, stuffing chilli powder inside and re-wrapping them,” said a forester at a range in the Terai under Kurseong subdivision.

“Once we find that the process of using chilli powder has proved effective, it will be introduced in the villages and residents would be taught how to prepare the chilli bombs,” Aden said.

In one instance, the elephants did run away, foresters said. Chilli bombs are used in Kerala and Assam already to drive away elephants.

According to forest sources, wild elephants have destroyed crops on 55 hectares and have killed 18 people in the Naxalbari block alone this year. “As elephant herds are roaming in the area, we are spending sleepless nights to stop them from entering hamlets and agricultural fields,” said a forest official.

“A herd of 125-odd elephants is roaming in the forest villages of Naxalbari and even crossing the Mechi river and entering Nepal in search for fodder,” the officer said.

“We are concerned as an elephant calf was attacked and killed in Nepal last week. Some other elephants, which have intruded into Nepal, have returned with injuries and are roaming in herds. The wounds are yet to be examined and treated, as these animals are moving with herds. In case the chilli bombs are found to be effective, we can use them at the borders to deter elephants from entering the neighbouring country and keep them within our territories. This would stop them from getting injured or killed,” he added.

Representatives of local panchayats also expressed concern over the elephant attacks. “Herds of elephants enter our area ahead of the monsoon every year. This year too, elephants have started coming in our block,” said Sunil Ghosh, a member of the Naxalbari panchayat. “Talks have been held with foresters and we have asked them to take appropriate steps to stop such raids, which lead to loss of lives and property,” he added.