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Villagers hit streets against jumbo attack

Tezpur, Nov. 18: Residents of two villages in Udalguri took out a procession today protesting the killing of four persons by wild elephants last night.

Ranjit Hasda, 22, Ankit Newar, 17, Rantu Lama, 30, and Ranjit Orang, 20 all from Nunaipara and Nunaikhuti villages in Udalguri district were killed by a wild herd of elephants when they were guarding their paddy fields at night. The herd also destroyed the crops.

The villagers today submitted a memorandum to divisional forest officer Bankim Sharma and asked the forest department to arrange night patrolling in the fields .

Though the state forest department has taken up various measures to save wildlife and conserve forests and to check man-elephant conflict, the problem has assumed serious proportions in the state, with conflicts happening at regular intervals, leaving the authorities desperate for a permanent solution.

Though the Elephant Task Force of the Union ministry of environment and forests had suggested setting up of conflict-management task forces in Sonitpur and Majuli, no steps were taken.

Elephant habitats in the state have been shrinking and figures released by the Centre revealed that Assam had 2.59 lakh hectares of forestland under encroachment the highest in the country.

According to the 2011 census, the population of elephants in Assam is 5,620 compared to the 2007 figure of 5,281 a rise of over 339 elephants.

A source said encroachment in forest areas had to be stopped, as it is the only way to save elephant habitats, and that can be done only if there is no political interference.

Ananta Bag, chairman-cum-CEO of Green Valley Forest and Wildlife Protection Society, an NGO, said following acute shortage of food, coupled with habitat destruction, floods and other manmade problems, herds of wild elephant had been creating havoc in some areas of Udalguri and Sonitpur districts, particularly around the Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary and Nameri National Park.

There are allegations that Nameri and Sonai-Rupai, along with other reserved forests, have become hubs for timber smugglers, whose activities were leading to destruction of elephant habitats.

Official records reveal that 10,754 hectares of forest area in the west and east Sonitpur forest divisions have allegedly been encroached upon, resulting in frequent intrusion of elephants into villages.

Rampaging herds have destroyed standing crops and houses worth over Rs 10 crore and killed a number of people, including a family near Rangapara town in Sonitpur district, in the past in both forest divisions.