In Assam, a village makes way for elephants

In Assam, a village makes way for elephants

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Karbi Anglong, Assam:  The existence of Asian elephants is today threatened by the degradation, fragmentation and shrinkage of their natural habitat in forests across the country. The result has been an increase in the conflict between humans and elephants in the fringe areas of forests. Protecting the corridors linking these fragmented habitats is one of the most urgent measures identified to protect elephants. Now, for the first time in India, an entire village in Assam's Karbi Anglong district has decided to move out of an elephant corridor that supports as much as eight per cent of the total elephant population of India. It is a small step, but will go a large way towards helping more than 2000 elephants live a little more securely, with humans out of the way of their already fragile habitat.

At the Ram Terang village, deep inside Assam's heavily-forested Karbi Anglong district, families say they are happy to get out of the way of elephants, literally. This village, falls in the middle of the Kalapahar-Daigurung elephant corridor in the district - a crucial connection for the area's 2000 elephants from the adjoining Kaziranga National Park to Karbi Anglong, which form more than eight per cent of the total elephant population of the country.

Moving freely across this corridor is a vital step to preserve an already shrinking elephant habitat, and the 19 families in the area are now preparing to become the first in the country to allow forest officials and the Wildlife Trust of India to relocate the entire village elsewhere, out of the corridor.

Winson Ronghan, a villager says, "It is very difficult for us villagers to stay here. The elephants would destroy our paddy crops... We feel happy we are being shifted... Our villages were obstructing the free movement of the elephants."

Convincing an entire village to move has not been easy. Officials from the Assam government's wildlife department, and the organisation Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), spent many days and nights here to convince the villagers to shift.

In return for relocation, the villagers get concrete homes with electricity and water, agricultural land, and assured livelihood promotion activities. The biggest challenge, though, will be to carry out the shifting without too many hitches.

Dilip Deori, who headed this operation for the WTI, says it took him two years to convince all the villagers.

Bibison Tokbi, Forest Ranger at Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council says, "We also do realise that lives of villagers were under threat because of the elephant movement and this was also a reason we decided to help the WTI."

Assam has eight more such elephant corridors. Clearing out the innumerable human settlements out of these areas is a mammoth task. But a few dedicated workers, and some very wise villagers, have shown that nothing is impossible.

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