Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Farmers in some parts of Samtse are battling to save their crops from elephants on a daily basis these days.
The problem has worsened this year after an elephant killed a 58-year-old woman in Tashichholing gewog on June 3.
As of now, there is no compensation from the government for such casualties or loss of crops. This ever-growing conflict, many say, needs more aggressive and sustainable solutions.
Tashichholing residents say a herd of about 15 elephants are loitering in the area damaging crops and areca nut trees these days.
“Two from this herd are regular visitors,” a resident said. “The damage so far is not much like in previous years. But we have already lost a life.”
This is the first time an elephant killed a person in more than two years in Tashichholing. In December 2019, a 69-year old woman was trampled to death. In June last year, a 62-year-old man was also attacked by an elephant in Tashichholing. However, he survived the attack.
Tashichholing Gup Kuenzang Peljore said the elephants are coming into the villages every day.
“Three elephants were seen today morning,” he said.
The gup also said that the gewog doesn’t have any authority to compensate farmers for their loss. However, he said the message has been passed onto the government representatives.
“We were told farmers could get compensation for their crops from next year,” the gup said.
Tashichholing has hundreds of acres of fallow land. Many of the farmers quit paddy cultivation or other farming activities due to the daunting task they face of protecting the crops from elephants. The government is pushing people to take up large scale farming but the elephants have prevented them so far.
Meanwhile, the forest department is carrying out some enrichment plantations and bio-fence as physical barriers in Tashichholing. A watch tower will also be constructed with funding support from Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation (BTFEC).
Elephant friendly trenches have also been dug. Electric fencing, construction of boulder walls, relocation of the settlements near the forest, and educating the community to live in harmony with elephants are among the many works carried out by the forest department.
Elephant in Samtse gewog
As the paddy season is approaching, farmers in Khandothang of Samtse gewog are also in a dilemma. An elephant has been causing damage to crops for a week now.
This is the same elephant people had chased away about a month ago. It has returned.
A local resident, Karma Wangzin said people are reporting crop damage every day.
“Farmers are losing,” he said. “The elephant was collared with a tracking device. But how does it help us save the crops?”
Karma Wangzin said that the government must do more.
“We should at least know if we will get compensated. Otherwise, farmers will cultivate the paddy just for the elephants.”