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Solar fence to tackle elephants

Jorhat, Dec. 8: To minimise elephant depredation in Majuli, the forest department is planning to install solar-powered fencing in and around the Brahmaputra island by identifying the route often used by the jumbos.

Solar-powered fence keeps intruders away by giving them a short but safe shock if they come in contact with the fence. Unlike electric fencing, there is no chance of electrocution, forest department sources said. The move comes in wake of increasing man-elephant conflict in Majuli and its adjoinging saporis (sandbars) by a riverine herd of elephants numbering over 100.

A similar initiative implemented by the department on the Jorhat mainland (Neemati area) to keep the riverine herd from straying into villages along the Brahmaputra bank since early this year has so far managed to keep the elephants at bay.

For the past 15 years, the herd, moving along the Brahmaputra in between two national parks, Kaziranga in the west and Dibru-Saikhowa in the east, has been responsible for the death of five persons in the island in the past three years. The elephants have also damaged large patches of paddy and vegetable fields in and around the island. Divisional forest officer (Jorhat) N.K. Malakar told The Telegraph that a meeting of top district and sub-divisional administration officials yesterday at Majuli has asked the forest department to start the process of installing solar-powered fences to mitigate elephant depredation.

The meeting, attended by Majuli MLA and water resources minister Rajib Lochan Pegu, shared the anguish and concerns of the island residents, who have been demanding the government to take measures to keep the elephants away from the island. The islanders suffer huge losses from annual floods and massive erosion and whatever agricultural produce is saved from nature’s fury, gets damaged by the elephants.

Malakar said the top brass of the department, too, has asked the Jorhat division to prepare and submit a proposal at the earliest to install a fence powered by solar energy for about a length of 5km. The DFO said survey for the same would be started soon by the Majuli beat of the department.

He said GPS would be used to identify the routes used by the herd and a proposal would be prepared and submitted to the higher authorities in Guwahati. The DFO said to maintain and keep the fence operational, local people, too, would be involved along with forest staff. Mostly, the elephants come to the island from the northeast side of Majuli.

Malakar said the 5km solar-powered fence installed from Neemati to Hatihal here earlier this year to protect over 100 villages seems to be paying results with so far no heavy damages to the paddy and vegetable cultivations reported from the areas.

Sources blamed encroachment and massive deforestation in neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh for the loss of habitat and blocking of elephant corridors, which have forced the herd to move along the river in search of food. Forest teams, armed with crackers, double-barrel guns, .303 rifles and searchlights, use bikes and boats to keep track of the jumbos in the island and along the Brahmaputra bank in Jorhat, especially during winter when paddy ripens and variety of vegetables is cultivated by the villagers.

In December last year, forest guards had to fire a record 70 rounds in the air on a single night, almost emptying their stock of ammunition, to keep the marauding herd at bay.