The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Power thieves threaten elephants

Calcutta, Aug. 1: The wildlife wing of the forest department has sent an SOS to the state electricity board: crack down on illegal power-tapping around tea gardens close to the elephant corridor of north Bengal or the animals face death.

Nine elephants have been electrocuted in the past three years. The last in early July. The hapless animal had come in contact with an illegal power line at the Haldibari tea estate.

The forest department was forced to file an FIR against the management. It said in the complaint that power theft was mainly confined to the labour colonies of the gardens that dot the Himalayan foothills.

“Of the 125-odd tea gardens in north Bengal, about 60 are directly in the paths, or corridors, used by elephants to forage for food and water. We are becoming increasingly concerned about the illegal tapping of overhead power lines by the estates, which is a very cogent threat to the survival of the population,” said conservator of forests, wildlife, V.K. Yadav. From Mahananda to Buxa in the Dooars, tapping of power is rampant, said Yadav.

Recurring incidents of electrocution, which often do not result in death but may lead to it, have prompted the wildlife wing to write to power board chairman Sanjoy Mitra.

A senior board official said after preliminary talks with the forest officers, inspectors were being sent to conduct a survey.

“There is no way to know how many animals get injured. We only record the deaths from contact with the high-tension cables,” said Yadav.

About 300 elephants traverse hundreds of kilometres in north Bengal, coming directly in contact with human habitation leading to serious conflicts. This year, five persons were trampled to death in Siliguri and its neighbouring areas.

“They follow routes that the herds have been taking for thousands of years and with human encroachment, conflict and deaths on both sides are common,” said Yadav.

Years ago, the north Bengal forest was one large tract extending beyond the Sankosh river towards Assam in the east and beyond Mechi on the Nepal border near Panitanki to the west. Massive deforestation to make way for agricultural land and tea gardens has now resulted in the fragmentation and isolation of the well-marked elephant routes.

The forest department has also embarked on a mission to evolve a strategy to tackle the human-animal conflict in south Bengal. The chief wildlife wardens of Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa met on July 27 in Midnapore to draw up a plan to tackle problems that herds criss-crossing forests create.

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