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Ringed by jumbos all night

- Farmer spends seven hours in bamboo grove

Alipurduar, Nov. 16: A resident of Madarihat spent all of last night crouched in a bamboo grove as four elephants munched on the tall grass and circled his hiding spot.

Around 9pm, Mangra Munda was on the way to his cousin’s house in a Madarihat village when he heard some noise at a distance.

“I heard some villagers shouting and the wild elephants trumpeting nearby. It was dark but I saw a few people running in the fields with torches. When I turned around, I saw the elephants right behind me,” Munda, the 45-year-old farmer, said.

He started running. “After running for around 100 metres, I saw a bamboo bush and rushed into it to save my life,” he said.

But this proved to be a trap, which Muda realised too late.

“I saw that four elephants that had chased me were standing and one tusker was coming towards where I was hiding. But the animal did not attack. The elephants ate the tall grass through the night. I kept praying to be saved,” he said.

The elephants, Munda said, left around 4am.

“I came out of the bush after that and went home. My family did not sleep last night as they did not know where I was and were searching for me,” Munda said.

Sources said the Madarihat elephant squad was informed around 9.30pm and it reached the spot around 11pm but the foresters did not chase the animals.

Elephant expert Parbati Barua said: “Elephants normally do no chase people if they are not harmed. Last night, the animals ran in the same direction that the man was running, so the elephants did not stop. As for the tusker supposedly trying to attack the man inside the bush, it is unlikely that the animal wanted to harm him. Tuskers may try to scare people. It was probably that.”

At least 30,000 people reside in Madarihat in Alipurduar subdivision, 55km from here.

Forest sources said a herd of 50-odd elephants was roaming Khayerbari, Meghnad Saha colony and Pradhan Nagar in Madarihat since Durga Puja.

Madarihat and its surrounding areas are known for attacks from marauding elephants.

Although the group of elephants had left the locality after the Laxmi Puja, the animals returned on Tuesday.

On Wednesday night, 12 elephants entered a Kali puja pandal at Rangalibazna, scaring pandal hoppers away.

The animals also ruined crops on a five-bigha plot.

Foresters said the elephants usually strayed out of the nearby Jaldapara and Dhumchi forests in search of food.

Rajendra Jakhar, the divisional forest officer of wildlife III, said: “Elephant depredation is on the rise throughout north Bengal. In Madarihat, a herd of elephant has got divided into several groups. It is really tough for the staff to reach everywhere at the same time. We have given searchlights and crackers to the range staff to steer away elephants and hired two vehicles and a driver (for the quad) so that the foresters can reach on time.”

The squad had one vehicle earlier.

Manoj Sharma, a resident of Meghnad Saha Colony, said: “Elephants come in our area almost everyday. On Wednesday, we contacted the elephant squad but the foresters said they did not have bullets and search lights. We steered away the animals ourselves. One elephant had chased me and my brother. We escaped somehow. We have been asking for compensation since 2010 but the forest department has not given a single rupee.”

Jakhar said: “We have cleared most compensation (since 2010) but I would enquire if there is anything pending.”