The Telegraph
Tuesday , July 29 , 2014
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Jumbo herd gets salt whiff, barges into khutis

- Forest department asks farmowners in Majuli to take precautions to minimise damage

Jorhat, July 28: The Assam forest department has asked the owner of khutis (traditional small dairy farms) in Majuli in Upper Assam not to keep salt outside cowsheds in a bid to prevent elephants damaging the khutis.

Elephants are attracted to the smell of salt and even a whiff makes them barge into these farms. The advice comes in the wake of a riverine elephant herd, roaming the island since the last week of May, damaging over 15 khutis with salt kept outside the sheds. Salt is provided to cattle as part of their regular food.

Over the past 15 years, the elephant herd has been moving along the Brahmaputra between Kaziranga National Park in the west and the Dibru-Saikhowa in the east.

This particular herd, the number gradually increasing to about 100, has been responsible for the death of five persons on the island in the past four years. The elephants have also damaged fields of paddy and vegetables in and around the Brahmaputra island.

The forest beat officer of Majuli, Atul Das, told this correspondent today that forest staff were on their toes almost round-the-clock because the herd of jumbos was targeting khutis in the saporis (sandbars) on the northeastern tip of Majuli in the past few days.

“This is for the first time that the elephants have rampaged khutis in Majuli in search of salt, which is normally kept quite casually in these dairy farms. Earlier there were no instances of the elephants visiting the khutis, which are located in remote secluded areas,” Das said.

The beat officer said somehow the wild animals got the smell of salt kept in the khutis and went berserk. They caused devastation in almost all the khutis in Sinatoli and grazing saporis along the border with Jorhat and Sivasagar districts.

Das said the herd, which includes 15 to 20 calves, has also damaged sugarcane plantation in the adjoining area. “They feed on the fruit. We had to fire over 20 rounds in air in the last three nights to chase away the jumbos from near the khutis,” the beat officer said.

He said it was very difficult to reach the saporis in order to save the khutis. “We have to leave our bikes on the island and then take small country boats to reach the areas whereas the jumbos move faster as they can cross the river channels with ease,” Das said. He said the forest staff has urged the khuti owners to keep the salt inside bags or containers inside the sheds in order to minimise the possibility of its smell attracting the elephants.

Das said in addition to the menace by the elephant herd, the forest staff in recent times also had to tackle a feral herd of around 50 buffaloes, which have strayed out from khutis or have been displaced during the floods in the past few years. The buffaloes, too, have damaged paddy and vegetables in nearby areas.

He said the depredation annoys local people, who already suffer huge losses from annual floods and massive erosion. Therefore the agricultural produce saved from nature’s fury is very important to them to carry on their lives.

He said monkeys, too, create problems from time to time for households. A number of incidents have been reported where monkeys have attacked local residents.

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