Human-Elephant Conflict in Assam
Human-Elephant Conflict in Assam

Human-Elephant Conflict in Assam: Causes, Consequences, and Mitigation Strategies

Exploring the Roots of the Conflict, Its Impact on Communities and Wildlife, and Potential Solutions

Increases in human population and development works have reduced and fragmented wildlife habitat, which has resulted in human– wildlife conflicts.  

Human wildlife conflicts refer to struggles that arise when the presence or behavior of wildlife poses actual or perceived direct, recurring threats to human interests or needs, often leading to disagreements between groups of people and negative impacts on people and/or wildlife.

Human-Elephant Conflict:

  • Being a large herbivorous animal, elephant needs vast areas to roam, browsing, foraging, moving from place to place in search of food and water with the changing seasons.

  • The ‘home range’ of an elephant herd can vary from an average of about 250 sq. km (in Rajaji National Park) to over 3500 sq. km (in the highly degraded, fragmented landscapes of West Bengal).

  • As elephants are forced to range farther and farther afield, this also brings them into conflict with humans.

  • And as humans expand into forest regions, planting nourishing crops near forest lands, and constructing homes, roads, and trains, confrontation with elephants increases.

Reasons/ Factors causing Human-Animal conflict

  • Urbanization & Development

  • Habitat loss

  • Lack of Protected areas

  • Wild animals migrate from forest areas to human-dominated regions for food and fodder.

  • Population explosion

  • Deforestation

  • Agricultural expansion

  • Climate change 

  • Invasive species

  • Increase in eco-tourism

  • Substantial increase in the population of prolific breeders like wild boars and peacocks.

Case Studies:

Sonitpur, Assam (Organized Habitat Destruction)

  • Kameng area in Arunachal Pradesh and Sonitpur in Assam have a significant elephant population ranging from 900 to 1200 elephants.

  • In Sonitpur, Assam, there are typically 500 to 800 elephants throughout the year, with migrations from the Himalayan foothills during the paddy season.

  • Human-elephant conflicts escalated in the early 1990s due to property damage and crop raids, leading to some human fatalities.

  • Politically motivated developments worsened encroachment, resulting in the loss of 50% of elephant habitat by 2002.

  • Human fatalities from elephants in 1993(32), 2001(26), and 2002(28), prompted retaliatory poisoning of over 30 elephants.

  • Awareness, compensation, and the establishment of an "Elephant Reserve" intensified efforts to address the conflict.

  • Restoring elephant habitat to pre-1990 conditions is seen as a crucial solution to mitigate the conflict.

Nambor-Garampani, Assam (Behavioral Change)

  • Nambor-Garampani forest in Assam is renowned for its elephant population.

  • Like many regions in Northeast India, the habitat has faced human encroachment and deforestation.

  • A national highway passing through the forest exacerbated human-elephant conflicts in the early 1990s.

  • Elephants began displaying altered behavior, posing hazards to vehicles as they searched for food such as fruits and sugarcane.

  • Despite some poaching incidents in the past, current reports of poaching are minimal.

  • Most of the remaining habitat in the forest has been safeguarded as wildlife sanctuaries.

  • Diverting the highway is expected to ameliorate the situation and reduce human-elephant conflicts in the area.

Steps Taken by Government:

  • Project Elephant: It was launched by the Government of India in the year 1992 as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme.

  • Wildlife Protection Act 1972: It lays down the rules and regulations for the conservation and protection of Animals in India.

  • Protected Areas and reserves: There are 106 National Parks, 573 Wildlife Sanctuaries, and 115 existing Conservation Reserves.

  • Project Tiger: It was launched by the Government of India in 1973, initially, the Project started with 9 tiger reserves, at present there are 53 tiger reserves in India.

  • Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE): It was formed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) during the tenth Conference of the Parties in 1997.

  • It assesses the levels, trends, and causes of elephant mortality, giving data to support international decision-making on elephant conservation in Asia and Africa.

  • Operation Thunderbird: The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change, coordinated an operation in India to combat wildlife crime.

  • Plan Bee: It has been adopted by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) as a unique strategy to keep elephants away from railway tracks, and efforts are afoot to implement it all throughout the country to save elephant lives.

Elephant Corridors:

  • One strategy to reduce conflicts with wild animals is to direct their movements in developed areas via designated corridors.

  • Elephant corridors are linear, narrow, natural habitat linkages that allow elephants to move between secure habitats without being disturbed by humans.

  • Elephant corridors are also critical for other wildlife including India’s endangered National Animal, the Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera Tigris).

Elephant Corridors in India:

  • Number of elephant corridors in India have been changing over the years.

  • The Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) established and published 88 corridors in 2005.

  • The Wildlife Trust of India is an Indian NGO dedicated to environmental protection.

  • A second phase of identification was conducted in 2015, and the number of corridors had increased to 101 by the time the report was published two years later.

Way Ahead:

  • Wildlife corridors allow animals to freely move from one habitat patch to another without crossing human-caused barriers which can put animals, and potentially humans, in danger.

  • Awareness: The communication and interaction between the forest department and the locals must be improved so that they can be sensitized about the issues and animals.

  • Effective planning and implementation of such measures requires consideration of good principles in community led conservation, in collaboration with the communities affected.

  • To safeguard animals and prevent human-animal interactions, the government must create more protected zones.

Other measures include barriers (fences, nets, trenches), guarding and early-warning systems, deterrents and repellents (sirens, lights, beehives), translocation (moving wildlife), compensation or insurance, providing risk-reducing alternatives, as well as managing tensions between stakeholders involved in these situations.

Advait IAS