Nima | Gelephu

About 20 years ago, farmers in Jigmeling, Sarpang used to wake at night, set up big fires, and shout to scare away the elephants.

There are more than 200 households in Jigmeling, the semi-urban settlement located along the Sarpang-Gelephu highway. The village also falls on the elephant migration routes.

Things have not changed much, even now.

Dechen, a farmer, has been guarding her crops and structures against elephant attacks the same way.

“Those in groups are not frightening, but the ones roaming alone are dangerous. Maybe there is not enough food and water in the wild. It is becoming riskier by the day,” said Dechen.

The residents spend sleepless nights and move in groups to chase away elephants, armed with only torchlights.


What is aggravating the threat?

About 100 metres away from the Sarpang-Gelephu highway, a vast tract of fallow land is turning into a thick forest. There are over 200 acres of land below the road leading to Bhutan Hydropower Service Limited.

The fallow land belongs to private individuals working abroad and in other dzongkhags. Land owned by corporate and government agencies is also left fallow. 

The solar electric fence installed to stop the elephants from entering the village has failed.

Residents in Jigmeling said clearing the fallow land would help reduce the threat.

Jigmeling Tshogpa Sonam Norbu said that it was high time to implement sustainable and secure safety measures.

“We need to secure the lives and livelihoods of the people. Electric fencing is not very effective now. We should also compensate the loss farmers are bearing every year,” he said.


Efforts from forest division

Building barriers such as an electric fence, monitoring the elephants to understand habitat preference and migratory habits, habitat improvements initiatives such as digging waterholes and fodder enrichment were carried out in Sarpang, according to the Human-Elephant Conflict Management report 2017.

This is the latest management report in the dzongkhag.

An official from the divisional forest office Sarpang said awareness programmes were held and quick response teams formed in Gelephu and Sarpang to address the complaints related to elephants.

Safety gears and torchlights were given to the volunteers from the community. The forest division also built a five-kilometre electric fence in Jigmeling.