Elephant deaths baffle Bengal forest officials

By Soudhriti Bhabani, IANS

Kolkata : The unnatural death of 11 wild elephants within a span of three months in West Bengal’s northern region has left the state forest department stumped as the wildlife tragedy is being blamed on an increasing man-elephant conflict arising out of urban encroachment in forestlands.

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“We are highly concerned about the frequent deaths of elephants in north Bengal forests and we have already taken necessary steps to find some solutions,” West Bengal Chief Wildlife Warden V.K. Yadav told IANS.

But wildlife experts blamed urban encroachments for the tragedy.

“The north Bengal forest range is considered to be the highest conflict zone in India. We have seen that on an average 10 elephants die every year due to man-elephant conflict,” said Animesh Basu, member of Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (HNAF), a Siliguri-based wildlife society.

“The situation has really become alarming and worrisome because of increasing urbanisation and lack of knowledge amongst the common people,” he said.

“Almost 350 elephants, according to the 2005 census, live in a 200-km forest stretch between the West Bengal-Assam border at Sankosh and the India-Nepal Mechi border. This entire forest corridor is fragmented by several railway lines that pose a major hindrance to the elephants to go from one forest to another and aggravates the man-animal conflict,” said Basu.

On July 27, West Bengal Forest Minister Ananta Roy told the state assembly that 48 people were killed during elephant attacks in 2006. The figures reconfirmed the growing man-animal conflict in West Bengal caused by growing human habitations.

The minister also said that various steps were being taken by the department to solve the problem. Signboards have been placed to create awareness among people and thus minimise the tragedies.

Out of the 11 elephants that have died in three months, at least five deaths were blamed on lightning. On Aug 1, one elephant died of electrocution at Malbazar in Jalpaiguri district. Five more elephants, including a calf, met with unnatural deaths in the same region.

Apart from mounting a campaign to save the wild animals, the matter has been taken up with the union ministry, Yadav said. “West Bengal chief secretary and additional chief secretary have already written a letter to the concerned departments and the Railway Board respectively.”

He said that among the recent deaths, while one elephant succumbed to bullet injury last month while crossing the India-Nepal border at Mechi, another pachyderm was run over by a train.

“A bilateral meeting between India and Nepal is likely to take place in India where Nepalese officials would visit the forest areas of north Bengal and later replicate the arrangements made in the Indian side in their territory,” Yadav said.