Halt the bus, jumbos on way

Traffic stops as herd of 30 takes a break

By Our Correspondent in Alipurduar
  • Published 20.08.15
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The elephant herd on the Nathua-Banarhat Road in Jalpaiguri on Wednesday. Picture by Biplab Basak

Alipurduar, Aug. 19: When Lakhiram Oraon was collecting grass this morning for his cattle, he heard a sound and turned around. Behind him were 30 elephants, many like mountains, some calves, on a state highway that leads to NH31.

The herd halted on the road surrounded by tea bushes of Gandrapara estate for nearly two hours. For those two hours, traffic was stopped on the road by the foresters.

Banarhat, where the herd was spotted at 6.30am, is 83km from Alipurduar town and 65km from Jalpaiguri.

Five-hundred metres from where the elephants had halted is Banarhat town with a population of around 10,000 people. The rest of the area has tea bushes, and territorial forests - which are not wildlife reserves like Buxa - that are part of the elephant corridors in north Bengal.

On the two sides of the highway are Moraghat forest, where the herd was headed, and Totapara forest from where the jumbos had emerged. In the middle is a tea estate and a highway, a zone of man-animal conflict.

As the herd stood on the road, some of the older elephants snacked on leaves from nearby trees, and passengers of buses, which had halted, went click, click.

Residents of the tea garden informed an elephant squad that reached quickly and stopped all vehicles.

Lakhiram said: "The big elephants in the herd were playing with the calves. They were just on the road. Within half an hour people started gathering at the spot. The foresters also came to the area but they could not send the herd into the forest immediately."

Samar Das, a high school teacher who was on his way to work, had to stop because his bus was stuck on the highway: "I was going to Nathua by bus. I saw the elephants on the road and immediately got off. I wanted to take a picture from up close with my cellphone but the foresters did not allow me. They told me that as there were calves in the herd, the older elephants may feel threatened and attack us. Others also took pictures from a distance. Soon, many vehicles halted on both sides and at least 1000 people gathered to stare at the herd."

The foresters' fear of angering the herd was not unfounded.

In June this year, a herd had lost its way in Madarihat and strayed into Meghnad Saha Nagar, a settlement near a patch of forest. The herd of nine elephants entered the residential area near Jaldapara National Park early in the morning and lingered there till late evening as onlookers would not free the path that elephants could take to enter the Jaldapara forest.

Also, some of the residents tried to drive the herd into a small wooded area, but each time they did so, the herd came back and chased the villagers. One person was injured when he fell into a ditch after being chased by one of the jumbos.

Today, the elephants moved from the highway after 8am but till 9am, they stayed near the highway. After that they entered deeper into the forest and traffic movement eased.

Bidyut Sarkar, the divisional forest officer of Jalpaiguri, said: "About 30 elephants came on to the road and our staff successfully sent them inside Totapara forest. The elephants did not cause any harm to anyone."