Guwahati: In what could be bad news for wildlife conservation, herds of elephants in Assam continue to perish in various incidents, most of which arise out of unbridled development. Cases of man–animal conflicts are increasing in India’s Assam and have been a cause of concern for wildlife bodies and conservation lovers. Many elephants, including a calf lost their life in the Deopahar area of Numaligarh in the Golaghat district of Assam, which is adjoining to the world renowned Kaziranga National Park. According to a shocking report, while several elephants died of starvation, many others were killed as they tried to bring down a wall built by Numaligarh Refinery.

Elephants in Assam, which were already facing a threat from poachers, are giving up to development plan of corporates as well as the government in a Non-Development Zone. About 133.5 km of Deopahar Proposed Reserved Forest has been declared Eco-Sensitive Zone. This place is home to around 110 elephants, according to the latest census. A Ministry of Environment and Forests declaration in 1996 marked this area as ‘No Development Zone’.
But a 2 km stretch has barbed wire fencing as well as razor edges, which has been built by the NRL inside international Elephant corridor located in the Telgaram area of Numaligarh. This is proving to be the death knell elephants in Deopahar. The wall has been erected for a golf course that has been built by this company in 5 acres of land in “no development zone.”

“Earlier elephants used to come to Nambor Doigrung Wildlife Sanctuary in the Karbi Anglong District. They used to come in herds in search of food and water during the night time and would go back to Deopahar hills after a few hours. But this wall is blocking their way, and restricting them from food and water. Already 4 have died of hunger. I fear many elephants would die in future,’ says a forest official of the Kaziranga National Park.

Elephants in Assam face senseless development

Telgaram, where this refinery is situated, serves as the transit point for elephants in Assam roaming between the Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong.

‘Now that animals can’t go out of area due to this wall, they often come to our village, and destroy houses. The conflict is rising, and villagers and elephants both are vulnerable,’ says Naba Bora, a villager from village Na-Pathar.

Divisional Forest Officer Golaghat, through letter no. B/13/NRL Const/1295-98 dated 02/05/15, asked NRL authority, Guwahati, to take action, and remove barrier constructed illegally which is blocking normal movement of elephants in this area.

Praneswar Das, Ranger of Golaghat division, said: ‘Government of Assam vide notification declared forest of Deupahar as Proposed Reserved Forest on 18 August 1999, which also includes elephant corridor, which falls in the NH-39 extension township. But NRL has closed down elephant corridor. They have constructed a golf course in a no development zone. NRL brought into possession a stretch of Deopahar PRF, and has tried to secure it by constructing boundary wall on the elephant corridor.’

Golf course construction on northern side of refinery violates norms of National Green Tribunal. The NGT pulled up Numaligarh Refinery for the violation. It also slammed refinery for cutting trees for construction. Telgaram, where this refinery is situated, has been known for elephant habitation. The area served as transit for elephants in Assam between the Kaziranga National Park and Karbi Anglong. With establishment of the NRL in this area in the 1990s, elephants in Assam have declined at an alarming rate.

Incidents of man–elephant conflict have been on the rise over the years and have resulted in many casualties on both the sides. Forest officials say the construction in Kaziranga–Karbi Anglong corridor is severely restricting movement of elephants in the area. Forest officials add with restricted movement of elephants in Assam, risk of in breeding has also increased. This could result in deleterious genes in the future generations. Large- scale deforestation, coupled with construction in the area, is leading to pachyderms gradually losing natural habitat and they can be found straying and becoming vulnerable to dangers.

First published on TNT