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Cracker of an idea to keep jumbos at bay

- Chocolate bomb proves effective in preventing man-elephant conflict in Manas fringe villages
Packets of Assam Elephant Chocolate bomb. Telegraph picture

Jorhat, Sept. 2: A chocolate of a different kind has become a big hit among Assam villagers residing on the fringes of a wildlife habitat to ward off herds of crop-raiding wild elephants.

“Assam Elephant Chocolate” — a new brand of firecracker straight from the fireworks capital of Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu — has apparently become the best weapon used by the forest department to reduce human-elephant conflict in the state. The cracker packs a sound that scares the gentle giants away.

Sonali Ghosh, deputy director of Manas National Park, told The Telegraph today that the firecracker has been very effective in chasing away herds of elephants which stray into human habitation in search of food.

“We have been distributing the firecracker for some time now and the villagers seem to be happy with the outcome. In fact, even the forest guards who are posted along the park boundary are regularly using these crackers,” she said.

Man-elephant conflict in Assam has assumed serious proportions with incidents taking place at regular intervals leaving the authorities helpless and desperate for solutions. The prime reason, officials claim, is the shrinking of elephant habitat.

According to latest figures released by the Centre, Assam has 2.59 lakh hectares of forestland under encroachment, the highest in the country. Likewise, elephant population has been rising. According to the 2011 census, the population of elephants in Assam is 5,620 compared to the 2007 figure of 5,281, an increase of 339 elephants.

Sanjit Das, president of the Manas Ever Welfare Society, an NGO, which has been donating the firecrackers to the park, said that villagers have been complaining almost regularly about elephants, which stray out of the park frequently and destroy crops. “We had approached a firecracker supplier at Barpeta Road and asked him to provide crackers which would make more sound and be effective in chasing away elephants. He brought this new item from Calcutta,” he said.

The NGO has been engaged with Manas for several years now and has been working on ways to mitigate man-elephant conflict on the fringes of the park. It has been distributing torches, charger lights and constructing watchtowers to mitigate the problem.

Das said they have been distributing crackers among the villagers for the past several years but the elephants seemed to have “got used to the sounds” of crackers used earlier.

Badal Saha, a firecracker distributor at Barpeta Road, said that a few persons engaged in various activities at Manas approached him to enquire about crackers with big sounds to chase away elephants.

“I went to Calcutta recently and inquired in the wholesale market about loud bombs to chase away elephants. The distributor told me that the Bengal forest department was using the Assam Elephant Chocolate brand to chase elephants to good effect. I brought this new brand on their advice,” he said.

Saha said he has not heard the sound of the cracker but he was happy with the feedback from a few forest department officials. “I am told that they would need more such crackers soon,” he said.