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Villagers relocate to make way for jumbos

- Karbis script conservation history

Jorhat, May 8: A Karbi village is about to script history by relocating for the sake of elephants.

Ram Terang village, comprising 19 families, is expected to shift to a new location by the end of this year.

This extraordinary gesture, followed by the relocation of another village, will clear the Kalapahar-Doigrung elephant corridor of all human habitation.

The corridor connects the Nambor-Doigrung wildlife sanctuary with Kaziranga National Park and is vital to the survival of the Asian elephant.

“The Karbi people will create history in the field of environmental conservation by this unique gesture. We have to learn to live with the animals and I’m proud that the Karbis are showing the way to the world,” Recho Harsing Ronghang, the 40th king of Karbi Anglong, said while laying the foundation stone of Ram Terang village near Bogijan, about 300km from Guwahati, yesterday.

The project has been undertaken by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) with support from the Elephant Family, IUCN, Neatherlands, Japan Tiger Elephant Fund, the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council and the state forest department. This is the first time in India that an entire village will be shifted to a new location to allow free movement of elephants. “There have been a few instances where a few houses have been shifted to clear an elephant corridor. In fact, the WTI was involved in such a move in South India but this is the first time in the country where an entire village would be shifted for the conservation of wildlife,” Rathin Barman, a senior WTI official, told The Telegraph today. “The villagers have supported us and offered to be resettled in a new location, located about 2.5km away and outside the elephant corridor,” said WTI official Dilip Deori.

Most of the villagers are patta holders and have been living in the area for over 50 years. They were totally dependent on the forests for their living. Deori said the new village would be developed into a model ethnic Karbi village, which would have the potential to be turned into a tourist destination.

Located deep inside the semi-evergreen forests of Karbi Anglong, the 1,400 bighas, where Ram Terang village is currently located, is a lifeline for nearly 2,000 Asiatic elephants.

It also provides safe passage to a number of other animals, including tigers.

In the second phase of the programme, another village — Tokolangro, which has around 18 families — will be shifted out of the corridor and resettled elsewhere, Deori said.

“The shifting of these two villages will ensure that this elephant corridor is completely cleared of human population,” he said.

The WTI official said it would have been impossible to carry out this project without the support of the king of the Karbi community, Harsing Ronghang.

“The villagers totally support the project and are helping us in every possible way,” Deori said.

The increasing demand for land to set up rubber and tea plantations and unsustainable extraction of forest resources has resulted in habitat fragmentation in Karbi Anglong, the largest district of the state that covers nearly 10,434 square km.

This, coupled with the expanding human population, has resulted in human elephant conflict in this region, which results in the deaths of people and elephants each year.

One-fifth of India’s elephant population is found in Assam and the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong elephant reserve is a high priority area for Asian elephant conservation.

The process to relocate the village started around three years ago.