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Jumbos dwindle in Tripura

Agartala, Aug. 18: Four centuries ago, Tripura’s plentiful elephant population had provoked a Mughal invasion headed by Emperor Jehangir as the ruling monarch Yashodhar Manikya had failed to despatch his quota of elephants to the Mughal court.

In the ensuing battle against the Mughal provincial commander of Bengal, Nusrat Fatejung, Yoshodhar’s rag-tag army was routed and the king was taken as a captive to the Mughal court in Delhi.

The emperor was ready to set the king free honourably but a humiliated Yashodhar did not return to his kingdom, preferring to die as an ascetic in Vrindavan.

While this episode in history points to Tripura’s once-fabulous animal resource, especially the elephant population, destruction of forest cover coupled with large-scale extension of human habitation has emerged as the bane of Tripura’s wildlife.

In the animal census of 2006, Tripura’s elephant population was found to be only 59.

The jumbos would foray into human habitation and paddy fields in search of food and roam around the forest range between Atharomura-Kalajhari and Dhalajhari. But a new menace has struck the scanty elephant population, down to only 24, according to the wildlife wing of the forest department as poachers have started picking on them for expensive ivory.

Last evening, surrendered NLFT rebel Rathindra Debbarma spotted an elephant in the vicinity of his hilly home at Tuisidrai bari under Teliamura subdivision and shot it with his gun. While the elephant collapsed to the ground, Debbarma and his accomplices used an axe to pull out the dead animal’s tusks which they displayed like trophies at his house. Earlier, Debbarma had killed four deer in the nearby forest and after peeling off their flesh had put up their heads on the mud walls of his house.

After being informed of the incidents, the divisional forest officer of Teliamura, Shaktiman Singh, accompanied by rangers Buddhi Debbarma and Champak Roy, raided Debbarma’s house this morning and recovered the elephant tusks and four deer heads with horns.

“The tusks will sell for at least Rs 10 lakh in the black market though we are not sure about the price of the deer heads and horns,” said Singh. He said cases against Debbarma and his accomplices had been filed and they would be arrested soon.

“Apparently all of them have fled but we will be after them. This is a cruel act. The number of elephants in Tripura has dwindled to only 24 now from 59 eight years ago. They need preservation and protection,” said Singh.

This is the first time that such a major incident of elephant poaching has come to light in Tripura.

Singh said the state wildlife department has sent a proposal for setting up an elephant sanctuary encompassing the Atharomura and Kalajhari hill ranges on 56 square km of land but it is yet to be sanctioned by the Centre. “We will now press for early sanction to protect the elephant population of the state,” said Singh.