Almost a decade after Tara Gurung, 40, moved to Pemathang and lived as a sharecropper, she has stopped cultivating the fields and started looking for work.
The single mother of four recently started working as a saleswoman in a shop in the town. “It has been about three weeks since I got this job. They said they will pay me Nu 6,000,” she said.
Tara Gurung said she had to look for work since she lost everything she cultivated on the five acres fields to wild animals including rabbit, wild boars and elephant of late.
“Our conflict with wild animals became worse since the elephants have been causing menace for the last one year,” she said. “It also poses risk to our lives.”
One of the oldest residents in the locality, Shivalal Dulal, said the area was originally known as ‘Hatisar’ meaning ‘the land of elephants’ but he saw only an elephant or two until last year.
“Now it comes in a herd and eats everything we grow,” he said.
The village elder, who stays in a joint family in a single-storey house, said he goes to bed praying every night for the safety of his family.
“We have small children here and it would be dangerous if the elephants attack our home at night,” Shivalal said.
Another resident, Radhika, 57, said her family stopped cultivating their two acres field. “We survive on dairy products now.”
Forest officials confirmed that there are about 15 elephants in the locality. The elephants spilt sometimes but mostly stay in herd between the airport and teak plantation area near the town.
People have lost paddy, banana and vegetables to the elephants but most local residents respect the elephants.
Referred to as ‘Ganesha’ by the Lhotsham community and ‘Mem Sangay’ by the people from the east, many fear they shouldn’t even complain about the elephants.
A resident, Phuntsho, said they do not have any choice than to call the foresters when the elephants attack their crops and come near their residence.
“We see the elephants rage when the foresters and officials use blank fire to chase the animal,” he said. “The officials return after a while and our lives are in danger.”
While local residents feel the foresters are not interested to chase away the animals, the forest officials say there is not much they could do.
A forester, on the condition of anonymity, said they respond to every complain and travel in their own private cars. “We have transportation issues and our lives are also in danger.”
Another official said they chase away the elephants but it returns again. “We have informed our head office but no one is taking any initiatives. We are just field officials who do not have much authority.”
Forest officials say they are even fed up of talking to media since there is no response from any authorities and the public keep blaming them.
Tashi Dema | Sarpang