Younten Tshedup | Zhemgang 

From a village tormented by wild elephant, Tanzema, a small village on the outskirts of Norbugang gewog in Pemagatshel has turned into an ‘elephant friendly village.’

After protecting themselves with electric fences, the villages, with support from the Royal Manas National Park (RMNP), restored elephant habitats in the forest and have constructed waterholes and saltlick sites.

Fodder grass and banana plants are also planted on a regular basis for the jumbos to feed.

Following the initiative, the Balipara Foundation in Guwahati, India, recognised Tanzema as an ‘elephant friendly village’ last month.

Not so long ago, the two species were arch nemesis, often coming into conflict with each other.

Like in many rural settlements in the country, human-wildlife conflict especially wild elephants attacks were rampant in Tanzema.

Residents spent sleepless nights guarding their crops and dwellings until some three years ago when the RMNP supported the village with about 5km of electric fencing.

RMNP’s senior park ranger, Dorji Wangchuk, said, “This has been one of the most successful electric fencing projects we have undertaken so far.”

A senior resident, Khandu recalls how the animals encroached the agricultural fields and damaged their crop in a single night.

“In the fear that the elephants would cause serious damage, many abandoned their houses and land and left to settle in the nearby villages,” he said, adding that no technique helped keep the wild animals at bay.

The once crowded settlement slowly began to loose its inhabitants with the increasing frequency of elephant attacks.

Those who remained behind started to construct houses with lifted foundation (without ground floor) as the attacks shifted from farmlands to houses.

Khandu said that with the help of the electric fencing, the elephants slowly stopped encroaching into their fields. The harvest increased as more lands were reclaimed.

Dorji Wangchuk said that the population also grew in the following years with more people getting to mass areca nut plantation. A few farming groups also mushroomed as agriculture business picked up.

The park supplied the farmers with seedlings and other necessary assistance.

From less than 30 people initially, the population in Tanzema today stands at more than 200.

Concrete structures have replaced temporary sheds and the otherwise quiet settlement has come to live once again.