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Trench plan to stop jumbos

Jorhat, Nov. 24: The forest department is contemplating digging trenches along the boundaries of Gibbon wildlife sanctuary — excluding areas identified as elephant corridors — to reduce incidents of man-elephant conflict.

Chief conservator of forests (Upper Assam) J.M. Kouli made this announcement at a public meeting held at the community hall of Hatigarh tea estate today.

Mariani Congress MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi organised the meeting to discuss ways to mitigate man-elephant conflicts plaguing villages and tea estates in the surrounding areas of the sanctuary. Residents of the affected areas and senior forest department officials attended the discussion.

As a long-term measure to minimise elephant depredation, the department will carry out a study to explore the possibility of digging trenches along the edges of the sanctuary, Kouli told The Telegraph.

“On an experimental basis, we will see whether the number of elephants (straying into human habitats) comes down,” the chief conservator said.

But around six places, which the forest department has identified as elephant corridors, will not be disturbed, Kouli said.

Efforts will be also be made to increase available food and water inside the sanctuary, so that elephants do not frequently venture into nearby villages, tea estates or to the Bhogdoi river.

The possibility of farmers taking up lemon cultivation and floriculture on the fringes of paddy fields will also be taken up the agriculture department, Kouli said. Elephants often damage ripened paddy fields.

Terming the meeting as a “positive step”, MLA Kurmi said for the first time the forest department had sent a top official to hear the “people’s woes”. He hoped the decisions announced at the meeting would be implemented.

“I have been raising the problem at the highest level of government for several years. Now I hope the government will do something,” Kurmi said. The MLA has been distributing flashlights and has joined the people in driving away the elephant herds at night. He said forest minister Rakibul Hussain had promised to visit Mariani soon to take up this issue.

Forest department sources said the sanctuary, with an area of 20.48 square km, is an ideal habitat for two to three elephants but over the last nine years, the population of elephants has gone up to over 40, forcing the animals to come out of the forest frequently.

The sanctuary is home to elephants, leopards, jungle cats, civet cats, mongooses, Chinese pangolins, Indian foxes, barking deer, sambar deer and Malayan giant squirrels apart from gibbons. There are 291 species of birds are found in the park, including the white-winged duck.