Samdrupling, Gelephu – Bakti Maya Rai puts her children to sleep and gets back to her sewing work. It is 9.20 pm.
A loud thud distracts the 35-year-old widow. Elephants have surrounded her little hut. She does not move for what seems like a long time. Suddenly, in consternation, she gets hold of her youngest son and urges two sisters to scream to scare the animals away.
They are sacred too as the elephants come pushing the thin bamboo wall.
Then begins the rampage. The elephants pull rice bags from inside the hut. The attack lasts for about 15 minutes.
People of Gelephu Thromde and the gewog have been living constantly in fear elephant attack which has increased lately.
Devi Maya Rai, 38, said human safety was increasingly becoming a concern.
“Every night, we go to bed with the fear of the elephants returning. There is no peace at all,” she said.
Three days ago, a herd of elephants destroyed a warehouse in Pemathang.
“We were kept until morning, chasing the elephants. Luckily, there were no casualties,” Devi Maya said.
Ugyen Tsewang, a retired soldier from Samdrupling, said that both the elephant numbers and frequency of attacks has grown recently. “They come in a minimum of eight in a herd,” he said. “These animals are not scared of any scare tactics.”
He said that although forest officials came to chase the animals away, a permanent solution was required. “It is high time that the dzongkhag, thromde, gewog came up with an effective solution to this growing problem.”
Range officer in Gelephu, Singye Wangchuk, said that sighting of elephants in the area started in 2014. Today there are more than 40 elephants in and around the thromde area.
“For strange reasons, the number of elephant sightings in Gelephu has increased recently,” he said.
It has found that the elephants roaming in Gelephu are those that come from Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary. For almost half of the year, the elephants are seen wondering in places like Samdrupling and Tashiling and other parts of Gelephu.
Singye Wangchuk said that electric and solar fencings have not been effective in keeping the elephants at bay. “Every night, armed forest officials are stationed in the office. We deploy them in areas where there are sightings.”
For a more permanent solution to human-elephant conflicts, he said that with support from the WWF the range office proposed for activities such as creation of artificial water holes and salt-lakes and growing fodder trees to enrich the natural habitat of the elephants.
Singye Wangchuk said that residents should take precautions while travelling alone in areas where elephant sightings are reported. Places like Samdrupling and Tashiling, Shetikhari, Pemathang and the stretch below airport area have reported regular sightings of elephants recently.
Since June 24, more than 30 human-elephant cases have been reported to the range office in Gelephu.
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu