Guwahati, Dec. 14: Assam has set out to do what America could not: kill Laden.
An elephant hunter has been hired by the forest department to track down and shoot the rogue tusker that has been on the rampage in Sonitpur district this winter, earning from terrified villagers the sobriquet Laden.
“He has unleashed terror, inviting comparisons with Osama bin Laden. We have set December 31 as the deadline to eliminate him,” forest minister Rockybul Hussain said of the elephant, which has been trampling people and destroying entire villages and acres of standing crops since last month.
Hussain made the statement while replying to questions in the Assembly about the forest department’s response to the intensifying man-elephant conflict.
Elephant herds have been straying out of their shrinking habitats across the state, targeting not only villages but also militant hideouts. In Jorhat district, one of the strongholds of the outlawed Ulfa, elephants last month destroyed several makeshift camps on the chaporis — Assamese for sandbank — off Neamati.
On the other hand, Laden trampled four members of a family in Sonitpur district. On Tuesday night, the tusker killed Safura Khatun, a brick kiln worker, in Biswanath Chariali.
The forest department has already moved chief minister Tarun Gogoi for a special relief package for villagers whose houses and crops have been destroyed by elephant herds.
The forest minister told the media after the day’s Assembly proceedings that elephant hunter Dinesh Choudhury would track down Laden. “He has been asked to kill the elephant with a single shot.”
In the past three years, Laden is the sixth rogue elephant to have a death warrant issued against his name.
Hussain said the government was trying to restore food sources in elephant habitats to keep hungry herds from straying out.
Assam has five elephant sanctuaries — Ripu-Chirang, Sonitpur, Dihing Patkai, Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong and Dhansiri-Lumding. About 900 hectares have been earmarked in these five sanctuaries for plantations that will provide elephant fodder, the minister said.
The forest department has had to declare an emergency and cancel leave of employees posted in Lakhimpur and Majuli to manage an elephant herd that has been shunting between these two places in search of its original habitat. “Chased by villagers from one place to another, the herd has lost track of the corridor leading to its habitat. They have been stranded for nearly a week,” Hussain said.