How Development is Killing Assam's Endangered Elephants

Four elephants have died so far trying to cross over the wall, say forest officials.

Kaziranga National Park: Assam's endangered elephants are facing a bigger threat than being killed by poachers. A boundary wall built inside an International Elephant Corridor is keeping the animals from food and water. Four elephants have already died trying to cross over the wall.

A two-kilometer-long boundary wall has been built by Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) inside the Kaziranga-Karbianglong corridor. The movement of the elephants has been severely restricted, said the forest officials, adding that the elephants died of severe hemorrhaging while trying to cross over the wall.

The risk of in-breeding has also increased, said the officials. The herds must travel to different areas to avoid breeding within their own herds which usually results in deleterious genes in the future generations.

The corridor is built in a 'No Development Zone' as declared by Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1996. As per the law, building of any establishments, townships or industries that could lead to congestion is not permitted.

Locals say the elephants were away from human settlements and peaceful but this has changed.

"The animal herds move in large numbers and come out at odd times and make screeching unnatural noises which is very scary," said Khagen Chaliha, a villager who was rehabilitated from his existing location for the construction of the Numaligarh township.

The Numaligarh Refinery has also built a golf course spread across five-acres in the area acquired by them, also within the 'No Development Zone'.

Though the NRL authorities claim to have obtained all necessary clearances for the golf course, the Assam forest department has said that they were 'never approached for any clearance for the golf course'.

"They have started constructing the golf course on the northern side of the NRL Township which is prohibited as per the 1994 notification. We have issued several warnings. Yet there is no compliance so far," said Divisional Forest Officer Golaghat, C. Muthu Kumarvel.

The NRL authorizes have even rubbished the visuals of elephants trying to crossover the boundary wall saying those visuals might have been doctored.

The National Green Tribunal hearing the case has currently stalled further construction on until final hearing.

The NRL, however, has received several green awards in the past and is considered to be an eco-friendly company.