Villagers had planted hybrid avocado trees in the forests for elephants but humans had eaten all the produce
You may have heard of elephants attacking and eating fruit trees and crops, but starting this year, wild elephants in Tashichholing Gewog under Samtse Dzongkhag have developed a new habit of attacking Doma Trees (betel nut).
Elephants break the doma tree down, crush it and eat the white fiber and tender leaves of the doma tree. This is a new development as until this year they have been attacking maize trees, banana trees and other farming produce.
With much difficulty and after a week’s effort, the forest team along with the gewog staff and villagers of Singyegang chiwog managed to chase away the group of five elephants.
However, now a fresh group of around six elephants which includes a mother and calf have started their menace at Norjangsa-Peljorling chiwog.
It was also learnt that probably one of the doma eating elephants killed a cow in Baepoteng-Kangdoongphug chiwog.
Tashichholing Gup, Samir Giri said that in Singyegang alone they have damaged 520 doma trees belonging to 44 households. He said the number seems quite alarming.
He said, “In less than a month we have spotted 10 to 11 elephants of which 5 were in Singeygang and 6 were in Norjangsa-Peljorling chiwogs. Elephants are taking refuge in the coffee plantation in Singeygang as the thinning of the coffee plantation has not been done.”
The farmers need to take care of Doma trees for six to seven years to have the first Domas and the elephants, as if on cue, are attacking and eating the trees which have given the first domas, the gup added.
The gup said that the total investment for each Doma tree, after taking care of it for six to seven years comes to around Nu 24,000, but in one night 40-50 trees are damaged by the elephants. Therefore, it would be difficult for the government to pay compensation for all the damages.
Meanwhile he said that a team from International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from India led by the Chief Forest Officer (CFO) of Samtse is trying to deal with this human wildlife conflict.
He said, “Few members from IUCN are friends of the CFO and they had discussions through social media about the recent attack of elephants in the gewog. The team then showed interest in helping us and after a thorough discussion with Dzongkhag they have come up with an initiative.”
The team using motion detector technology have developed a human wildlife mitigation machine called Anider early warning system (named after its inventor) which will give a siren once any wild animals enter or walk along the designated area. The machine can be charged using solar energy.
The IUCN team has given them 10 machines for trial (pilot) of which they are installing only 8 machines as the two machines will be kept as spare, in case if there is any damage to any of the machines.
The inventor himself is with the team and for the past few days they have been working on the installation. All the 8 machines where installed as of yesterday: 2 machines were installed in Singeygang, 2 in Peljorling, 2 in Norjangsa and 2 in Kangdoongphug.
The team has not charged anything for the machines and they did everything free of cost. The Dzongkhag and gewog office have provided them the transportation and logistics.
The IUCN is doing this under its MIKE project or Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants.
The gup said that in order to deter the entry of wild animal in the human settlements, the gewog took an initiative to do a plantation of fruit trees in the wild. He said, “In the past year, to bring down the entry of wild animals, we had planted hybrid Avocado. However, the people ate it all and so it wasn’t helpful.”
He said that this year they have planted indigenous Avocado, Guava and Amala in Daangling-Gangjoog chiwog, worth Nu 100,000. The hope is that in another five to 10 years, wild animals like monkeys will be fully engaged in these trees and won’t pose a threat to human settlements and crops.
The gup said that the elephants have not harmed people so far. However, a few cow sheds and temporary shacks in the fields were destroyed by the elephants.