Bahundangi, Jhapa, Nepal, March 31, 2011: The whole of Terai Nepal and the Terai-Dooars India, the foothills of the mighty Himalaya has always been the home for the elephants from time unknown. The aggressive feeding habit of the large animals often took them north almost upto 4500 feet. With time, the continuous elephant habitat has been fragmented both east to west and north to south, without disconnecting the biological movement route in the habit or minds of the large pachyderms.
The intense human settlement and outbreak of human population in this area has given a history of almost 50 years or more in human-elephant conflict. The syndrome is on the increase, inspite of several efforts by the forest departments and conservationists. During the beginning of this year with Shri.Jhala Nath Khanal being voted to be the Prime Minister of Nepal, the hope for reviving the home for elephants in the Mechi-Ilam areas of Nepal has increased, as he hails from this region of Nepal and would certainly do the justice of giving back some parts of the lost homes to the elephants in the form of a better human-elephant sharing habitat.
Presently, only a few hundred elephants survive in this area, in contrast to almost 50 elephants being caught in the wild, trained in camps and then sold every year, only about 50 years ago. These elephant camps which were in the wild then, are small human settled market places today. This is a situation in both sides of the Nepal-India border. The name Bahundangi has been related to ‘bullets to the Indian elephants’ for the past few years. Government of India along with Government of Nepal has organized a 17kms of electric fence with 17 watch towers along the Nepal border.
Why Indian elephants? The local belief is that the elephants belong to India as they spend the maximum time in India. The other belief is that the Indian forest department pushes them to Nepal to shed off the responsibility for the time frame when the problem of handling them is the maximum. Also there are 02 different policies across the border, the crop, house and life damage from elephants in India are compensated, but in Nepal it is not. The human population pressure has converted all the forests in the Nepal side into agricultural lands along the Mechi river. The involvement of a local NGO, Prakritik Sanrakshan Samaj (Nature Conservation Society) has shown some hopes for the past one year.
An active group of about 100 youths from the area has been involved in monitoring the 17kms of the critical border and also convincing the villagers on several issues. As an alternative source they have already started with an ecotourism project to highlight livelihood opportunities. They understand the need for community forests in the area and are working on the same. With some support, in the years to come the area will probably be ready to allow the wild elephant herds to come and visit their lost homes in Nepal. Maybe, a team of Kunki elephants be kept to keep them disciplined during their visit to Nepal.
All that is needed to keep up the spirits are ‘global volunteers’, who would come and share their resources within their capacity with this area.
- Uttam Paul. e.mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.