|Humans and wild elephants have been in a titanic struggle in Nepal in the recent years. The incidences of killings by the beasts have gone up in the recent months. Every year migrating herds of wild elephants cross the Mechi River in East Nepal and enter the country during summer and winter damaging the ripened crops and pulling down the huts and fruit trees. In summer they damage maize and in autumn the paddy.Wildlife knows no political boundary. Experts say the wild elephants have been using the traditional migratory route covering Nepal-India border since hundreds of years. Clearance of pristine forests for agricultural and infrastructure development following the eradication of malaria in the 1960s and growing human population in the fringe areas have fragmented elephant habitats in Nepal’s lowlands. Today, the aimless wanderers in the broken patches of forests not only raid crop in the adjoining fields and destroy huts and property, it often results in loss of human life and the death of the protected wildlife. Despite the fact that there is a stiff penalty for killing an elephant, affected farmers are sometimes left with no choice but to resort to reprisal killing. At times local administrations and park managers are also forced to destroy the protected animals to prevent further loss of life and property.
One can be fined Rs.100, 000 or sent to jail for 15 years or both for killing an elephant. There is a provision of providing a compensation of Rs.25,000 in case of human casualty and up to Rs.150,000 in case of elephant related injury.
The lowlands of West Nepal also could not remain unaffected from the human-elephant conflict this year. The adjoining villagers of Bardia National Park had a difficult time in chasing away marauding elephants from their crop fields. One local resident lost his life while three others sustained injuries when they tried to drive away the foraging wild elephants. Apart from crops, a number of huts and view towers were also destroyed by the elephants.
“Every year from August to October we have a miserable time. Herds of elephant raid the adjoining crop fields and we have to take risk in driving the giants away from our rice fields,”Said Balaram Timilsina, who is the chairman of the Talla Bankhet Buffer Zone User Group.
Elephants damaged all crops of Ram Bahadur B.K, whose four kattha of land adjoins Bardia National Park at Bankhet. They destroyed two of Dhaway Chowdhary’s huts. One of the huts of the Bankhet Ranger Post was also destroyed. Local residents who live in the fringe areas think it would be better if they were relocated elsewhere so that they do not have to face the elephant menace year after year. They say elephant population has increased in the recent years. There weren’t many resident elephants in Bardia. These days sixty to seventy resident elephants roam the Park Forest and adjoining areas.
Foraging elephants damaged approximately 150 quintal of rice and maze in 2004 affecting 60 households of the Khata area in Bardia. In 2005, 60 households lost around 92 quintal of crop. Khata serves biological corridor and links Nepal’s Bardia National Park with Katarniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary of India.
“Rapidly growing human population in the fringe areas of both Nepal and India has led to the fragmentation of wildlife habitats leading to the disruption of the seasonal movement of large terrestrial wildlife such as the wild elephants, which often force them to move through
human habitation where conflict becomes inevitable.”Says Mr. Shyam Bajimaya, the acting Director
General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC).
“There is need for a sustainable compensation mechanism. The Terai Arc Landscape (TAL) Program has provided a relief fund of Rs.500,000 at Lamahi and Khata. The interest generated from the fund is used for medical expenses of the injured and compensate affected farmers,”said Dhan Rai, who is the manager of the TAL Program, which is the outcome of a joint initiative of WWF and the Government of Nepal.
The Regional Coordinator of AREAS (Asian Rhino, Elephant Action Strategy), Director of Western Regional Office of WWF Nepal and staff visited the hard hit area of Bankhet of Shivapur VDC of Bardia District to assess human-elephant conflict a few weeks ago. After discussing about the problem with the affected villagers, the team decided to employ a number of measures to drive away the marauding elephants to reduce crop damage. Normally, the farmers keep watch from Machans (bamboo-made tower) and make all sorts of noise to chase the elephants. But such actions aren’t well organized. One villager said the terrestrial giants have even got used to firecrackers and are not afraid of the noise.
WWF Nepal has been supporting to build trench and fence in the critical areas to prevent wild animals from entering the adjoining crop fields. However, the ordinary fence hardly work and the giant elephants easily enter the crop fields. Electric fence appears to be an option.
According to a WWF Nepal commissioned study carried out in 1996-98, four main populations of wild Asian elephants have been recorded in Nepal, existing along the eastern, central, western, and far-western belt of the country. The eastern herd of 10-15 individuals migrates from West Bengal of India during the harvesting season of rice and corn. After crossing over to Nepal, the herd is known to move along the Churia foothills to the Sunsari and Saptari districts, before moving back to India. A herd of approximately 25 elephants in Parsa Wildlife Reserve forms the central population. This population also uses Chitwan National Park to disperse. The 40-50 resident population of Bardia National Park forms the western population. The far-western population of 12-18 elephants lives in the national forests of Churia foothills, occasionally moving to the Indian side, crossing over the Mahakali River.
The regional conference on “Human-elephant Conflict ? Lessons and Experiences from South Asia”jointly organized by DNPWC and WWF Nepal in June 2005 discussed on common problems faced by elephant range countries such as habitat degradation in the traditional migratory routes and the rapidly growing subsistence population in the fringe areas. WWF Nepal is working with the Government of Nepal and other partner organizations in the Terai Arc Landscape to restore biological corridors that provide crucial linkage between the Trans-border protected areas of Nepal and India, and facilitate the movement of large terrestrial wild animals including the wild Asian elephant.