As herds of wild elephants and lone elephants continue to raid villages, leaving a path of destruction in their wake, Bhutan has been dealing with an unparalleled issue. Concerns regarding the safety of both locals and these majestic animals have arisen as a result of the rising human-wildlife conflict.
According to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MoENR), the elephants in the southern belt, mainly Sarpang, Samtse, and Samdrupjongkhar are primarily to blame for the property damage and human casualties there. The records show that elephants kill around four humans each year.
In a recent incident that occurred in Samtenling Gewog in Sarpang, it was reported that an early-morning attack by a lone elephant claimed the life of a monk who was on a stroll.
According to reports, the elephant was agitated by the blasts from loud firecrackers being used to scare it away from a human settlement.
“Usually attacks on individuals happen when the quick response team is chasing away the elephants that enter human settlements,” stated Kumar Mongar Samtenling Gewog Gup. Attacks on humans happen if people are passing through that way.
Depending on the gewog, it has been reported that there are 8 to 9 elephants in a herd or 30 to 50 elephants roaming freely across Sarpang.
Gelephu Thrompon Tshering Norbu observed, “The elephants usually travel at night, and their reach is everywhere.”
Because Gelephu was formerly known as the land of elephants (Hati-Sar) or elephant’s corridors, it is said to be one of the reasons for the invasion annually.
Elephants commonly invade the area throughout the summer, according to Kuenzang Peljure Tashichhoeling Gewog Gup, and they typically come around in groups of 1 to 4 to consume acrea nuts, bananas, and other crops. The elephants supposedly began to arrive in the 1990s.
Additionally, it was said that in the months of September and October, Tashichhoeling Gewog occasionally sees 70 to 80 elephants in a location named Gangatar. Since the location is near a river, it was claimed that no harm to people is done throughout this operation. Every chiwog in the gewog is visited by elephants.
“We have tried every method to stop the invasion, but it seems to be failing. The government has suggested cost-sharing for the chain link fencing, but the people do not want that. That is why we decided against using it,” said the Gup.
A person from Tashichhoeling Gewog perished in the elephant attack the year before.
Similarly, Norbugang Gewog, Tading Gewog, and Yoeseltse Gewog in Samtse also report cases of elephants invading their land for food leading to destruction.
It was said that in gewogs, such as Phuntshothang in Samdrupjongkhar, frequent lone elephants cause more harm than the herd. The gewog now has chain link fencing that seems to be effective.
In every gewog affected by the elephant invasion in Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse and Sarpang it was said to be because the elephants, who migrate across borders, have been driven out of their natural habitats due to deforestation, human encroachment, and changes in land use patterns. As a result, they have increasingly wandered into human settlements in search of food and water, leading to damaged crops, destroyed homes, and even loss of life.
Local resident Tashi Wangdi resident of Gelephu expressed his distress, saying, “We’ve always lived in harmony with the elephants, respecting their space and them respecting ours. But now, it seems like they are as desperate as we are. It’s heartbreaking to see them suffering and causing harm.”
The local residents of the affected gewogs seek for long-term solutions.
Meanwhile, government officials and wildlife experts have been putting in a lot of effort to solve the problem. In order to keep elephants away, the authorities have put in place barricades, made loud noises, and even used trained elephants and their mahouts to lead the wild elephants back into the jungle. However, the invasion is still going on and these measures have had only modest success.