Farmers in Samtenling, Sarpang have skipped their sleep for the past week guarding their homes and farms against a herd of elephants that have started damaging vegetables, maize, and chillies in the gewog.

The farm owners chase about 28 of them including the calves, almost every night. Around 3am the herd of pachyderms disappears into the nearby thick cover and sometimes across the border.

The farmers said that doing this every year has become daunting and without adequate measures to control and compensate for the damage, they feel hopeless.

“The agriculture officials asked us to report and share photos but that did not make any difference. There is nothing coming out of it. I stopped sharing it now,” a farmer from Samtenling said.

The gewog extension office started to receive the reports of the damage on May 27 through their social media group.

More than 10 households reported damage to crops and vegetables last week, according to the gewog extension office. The herd damaged two acres of maize and chillies in Samtenling. Minor damages on areca nut trees, vegetables, and farm structures were also recorded.

The gewog agriculture extension officer, Jambay Lhamo said that the frequent damages by the elephants were the impeding factor when it comes to progress in farming.

“We try to promote and develop agriculture but farmers are discouraged because of the elephant attacks. The raid happens every year, sometimes even before the harvest time,” she said.

The official added that it was risky for the residents’ homes too.

The gewog supported the farmers by providing free seedlings and replaced the damaged crops so far. The insurance scheme that supported farmers with minimum compensation was lifted in 2019, according to the official.

“It’s important to have a compensation scheme but once we have that in place, even a minor damage is reported,” said Jambay Lhamo.

Kabita Gurung from Samtenling said that she lost almost 90 percent of chillies planted in more than three acres after the herd raided the farm for three days.

“There is no solution to this now. Maybe clearing nearby forest cover would help. There are fallow lands nearby, which is providing a safe escape for the herd during the day and at night they raid nearby farms,” she said.

She added that there was a compensation scheme that covered only the permanent resident of the gewog. “It should also include other farmers working in the gewog to make it sustainable,” said Kabita Gurung.

Only a single case of damage on crops was reported in last year. This is a drop in the number of such cases from 25 which was reported to the Gelephu range office in 2019.

The farmers have not sought help from the forestry officials since the incidents occur late at night this time. 

Forest range officials in Gelephu said that only the affected farmers come together to chase the elephants. “There is a need to involve communities during such incidents. We don’t have any extra measures than chasing the herd away like the villagers are doing,” an official said.

The official added that the herds were seen mostly in summer. “They break temporary shelters mostly while searching for salt and food items,” said the official.

By Nima | Gelephu

Edited by Tshering Palden