Elephants threaten Gelephu villages

Conflict: It has been more than a month that villagers in parts of Gelephu have been spending sleepless nights for fear of elephants.

At least 25 elephants, in two herds and a lone male elephant have been encroaching villages.

Just yesterday, 22 elephants entered fields in Pelrithang and damaged about two acres of paddy. A few days prior, the same herd was reported to have damaged about an acre of crop fields near Pelrithang lower secondary school.

A few makeshift huts were damaged and a car belonging to a teacher in Gelephu was also damaged while it was parked in front of the house. Villagers said elephants are targeting crops and banana trees. When elephants detect salt inside a house they try to get in and as a result damage houses.

One of the villagers said that they have been spending sleepless nights for the fear of elephants returning to damage more crops. “It’s disturbing and we can’t chase them away when they come in herds of more than 20,” the villager said.  “Instead of chasing them we run for our lives.”

Forest officials in Gelephu have been patrolling with weapons every night. Forest Range Officer Singye Wangchuk said that although officials have been trying to chase elephants away from the village, it was becoming difficult with the animals coming in huge numbers.

“We’re trying to support farmers by deploying staff with weapons. We frighten them and chase them from areas under threat of damaging property and lives,” he said. “Since there are a lot of them it’s not quite possible to chase them.”

He said that there are two herds of elephants consisting of 11 to 12 in each herd entering the villages. While these herds are not violent, a lone male is.

While elephants encroaching into villages in Gelephu is not new, this year the number is larger than in past years. It is not known if they have come from the Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Manas National Park or from across the border.

Ranger Singye Wangchuk said that since a lot of villages in Sarpang have electric fenced their fields, right from Singye gewog to Samtenling, which is about six kilometres before Gelephu town, the elephants could be headed towards the town.

“They are moving away from electric fences and more into the town,” he said. He added that the elephants could be moving out of forest because of limited availability of fodder.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang

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