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Trained elephants for tea gardens

- Appeal for kunkis to chase away wild herds and reduce conflict

Jorhat, July 25: Tea gardens in Udalguri district have been asked to keep trained elephants (kunkis) to chase away marauding elephant herds not only in tea estates but also in the interior areas of the district.

“As a single kunki can chase away a large herd of wild elephants, it is necessary that tea gardens keep at least one trained elephant,” Jayanta Das, wildlife warden of Udalguri district, told The Telegraph today.

The district has witnessed regular confrontations between man and elephant and was identified as one of the worst conflict zones in Asia.

While 13 persons and eight elephants have died in these conflicts in the district in 2012, 19 persons and 10 elephants died last year. One elephant and 12 persons have already been killed this year. Many of these conflicts have been witnessed in tea gardens.

Das said the appeal to the tea gardens was made at a meeting in the office of Udalguri deputy commissioner Sadhana Hojai yesterday. It was organised as part of Elephants on the Line programme, a joint initiative by environmentalists of Assam and Bhutan.

Apart from tea garden executives, two elephant experts from the US — Liza Mills and Allen Cheng — and a team of six forest officials from Bhutan attended the meeting. Udalguri shares a border with Bhutan.

Kushal Konwar Sharma, a noted elephant expert and a teacher at the College of Veterinary Science in Guwahati, also attended the meeting.

Das said the forest department has at least four trained elephants, which are being regularly used to chase wild pachyderms, but there was a need for more trained elephants.

A tea garden executive from Tangla, who attended the meeting, said it was a positive idea to keep trained elephants in tea gardens to check the entry of wild ones.

“Wild elephants are regular visitors to our garden and on several occasions, they have entered labour colonies. We definitely need ways to keep these elephants away. We will forward the proposal to the higher authorities,” he said.

The wildlife warden said it was the same herd of elephants, numbering around 450, which keep moving between Bhutan and the district. “Increasing human activities have resulted in these conflicts and we have to look for solutions,” Das said.

He said Mills and Cheng have been doing extensive research on this particular herd of elephants for several years now and have been shuttling between Assam and Bhutan.

“We will also hold regular awareness meetings in villages and train people about animal behaviour and how to avoid confrontation with wild elephants,” he added.

He said the next meeting under the programme would be held in Bhutan.

“Similar man-elephant conflicts are witnessed in the neighbouring country,” he added.