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Triple trouble for forest staff

- Majuli faces marauding herd of elephants, buffaloes & monkeys

Jorhat, May 22: Forest department staff in Majuli are having a tough time tackling depredation by a herd of elephants, a feral herd of buffaloes and a large number of monkeys simultaneously.

Over the past 15 years, the elephant herd has been moving along the Brahmaputra between two national parks — Kaziranga in the west and Dibru-Saikhowa in the east. This herd has been responsible for the death of five persons on the island in the past four years. The elephants have also damaged large patches of paddy and vegetable fields in and around the island.

The forest beat officer of Majuli, Atul Das, told this correspondent today that forest staff were on their toes almost round the clock because the herd of elephants, which frequents the island and its adjoining areas, is back after a gap of five months.

Das said the herd, which has around 70 elephants, entered the north-eastern side of Majuli (upper Majuli) from adjoining Sivasagar district last Saturday and has been wreaking havoc in about 70 villages under two different gaon panchayats — Ratanpur and Luitporia. The affected villages are outside the Brahmaputra embankment in Majuli.

The forest officer said the Majuli beat office has nine people who are facing a Herculean task of keeping the jumbos at bay from the villages where the ahu rice crop is ripening in the fields and vegetables are being grown near the homes.

He said the depredation annoys local people, who already suffer huge losses from annual floods and massive erosion. So, the agricultural produce saved from nature’s fury is very important to them to carry on their lives.

Das said the nine members of the team use their personal motorbikes to move around and is also facing a “big challenge” from a group of feral buffaloes damaging paddy and vegetables in the same area. The forest department has only one motorcycle.

The beat officer said the buffaloes, numbering about 50, have strayed out from khutis (small dairy sheds in the sandbars) or have been displaced during floods in the past few years.

Das said he has requested the range office at Jorhat to send additional staff temporarily and a SUV vehicle to strengthen the anti-depredation activities. He said monkeys, the commonly-found rhesus macaques, too, are creating problems by starting to live close to the households and a number of incidents have been reported.

The forest department will now recommence building a solar fence at Dhanoi Sapori to minimise elephant depredation on the island, he said. Work had been suspended during the elections.

Solar-powered fences keep 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.

Range officer (Jorhat forest range) K.K Deka said the department, if required, would send additional staff to Majuli to assist the local team to tackle the situation.