The remnants of Chandra Kala Sharma’s corn fields following an elephant encroachment

Human-wildlife conflict takes a toll

The farmers of Sipsu have been battling wildlife since the mid 1980s

Agriculture: Chandra Kala Sharma, 74, of Singyegang village in Sipsu, Samtse had a terrifying encounter with an elephant on the night of June 12. The experience still haunts her.

Two elephants had gotten so close to her house that one animal, besides breaking her kitchen window had even left the metal bars on the window bent in several places.

“I saw the elephant’s trunk inside my kitchen,” Chandra Kala Sharma said, still remembering that rainy night. “It was midnight.”

Chandra Kala Sharma said because it had been raining heavily, her shouts for help went unheard by her neighbours.

She remembers screaming several times that night. Eventually, the elephants left her compound and her corn fields destroyed.

There is nothing left for her to harvest.

Chandra Kala Sharma’s son BP Sharma had rushed home from Phuentsholing after hearing about the incident.

“Luckily, my mother came outside from the kitchen door that night,” he said, adding that the story could have taken a turn for the worst had she come out from the main door as she usually does.

BP Sharma remembers elephants being around Sipsu since the early 1980s. It was not difficult to chase them away then, he said. However, from the mid 1990s, the situation changed. The elephants grew bolder and more stubborn.

In the last two years, BP Sharma also had to replace more than 200 of 600 areca nut trees he had planted after they were destroyed by elephants.

Another resident of Singyegang village, Lhamo, 49, also had some of her areca nut trees destroyed by elephants recently.

“We suffer a lot,” she said. “We have been suffering like this.”

Meanwhile, maize farming in Singeygang has declined sharply. While some still cultivate maize, the amount is significantly less today.

In Peljorling, people have stopped cultivating maize entirely.

Besides elephants, wild boars are another major reason for the decline of maize cultivation.

There is no electric fencing in both Singeygang and Peljorling. Solar powered electric fences were tried once but failed.

Another two villages in Sipsu, Jogimara and Belbotay, are also prone to elephant encroachments. But both villages have solar fences surrounding their fields.

However, farmers have found that solar fences are not as effective during the rainy season when there is less sunlight. Farmers said there is much to be done.

Recently a siren was installed at Belbotay to warn residents during wild animal encroachments.

However, residents said the siren was barely audible during heavy rainfall. They said that more sirens needed to be installed so a larger area can be covered.

A resident from Belbotay, Sameer Giri said they were helpless.

“And there are women and children we have to worry about,” he said, adding that their efforts to call forest officials were also of no use. “We have a handful of foresters and they cannot reach everywhere.”

Sameer Giri said the elephants come from across the border. These animals are chased away by “heavily equipped” people, he said, pointing out that Bhutanese had no weapons and means to employ similar tactics.

People across the border also used high voltage electric fences, Sameer Giri said, which is not the case in Sipsu.

Farmers in Singeygang also said that they would support foresters if they come to stay in their areas. They said not only are they willing to accommodate foresters but also would go along on patrols.

The villages of Sipsu are losing their long battle against the wildlife.

Many have already given up cultivating crops and paddy. And many more are planning to call it quits.

Rajesh Rai | Sipsu

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