Conflict: Carrying a rudimentary torch to light up their trail, four forest officials ready to patrol the maize and paddy fields at around 8:30pm looking out for two elephants terrorising villages in Gangtokha of Nichula gewog, Dagana.
Accompanied by two other villagers, the forest officials make their rounds without an incident. There are no elephants and the officials call it a night.
But on their way back home the team comes across two elephants grazing on a paddy harvest belonging to the Farm Machinery Centre Ltd (FMCL) established only recently in Nichula.
The centre had cleared about 200 acres of land in Gangtokha to farm. Ever since the two elephants have been causing a menace.
That night the duo breached the electric fence surrounding the farm and remained inside the boundary for several days. The elephants also damaged crops in the villages of Gangtokha.
A businessman, Biswajit Rai, who had returned home to see his parents said that the same duo has also been terrorising the villages. “I’ve been guarding my millet fields for two nights now,” he said. Despite his vigilance, on the second night, the two elephants still managed to sneak into the fields damaging some of his millet.
The elephants also ruined Budhiman Rai’s maize plants on the night of November 29 besides his paddy harvest that was collected and stacked near his house. “We have to guard against these animals throughout the night sometimes,” the farmer said.
Meanwhile, controlling the elephants has been a challenge especially in villages with smaller populations. Although electric fencing has worked wonders for many communities in Gangtokha its success has been limited.
Vegetation that grows near the fencing decreases its power, forest officials of the Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary (PWS) told Kuensel.
A forester with the sanctuary, Kinga Norbu said that they are aware of the problems in the villages and that there is a need to unite and work together.
“We have also proposed for another project to install a new set of fencing near the Sunkosh river,” the official said, adding that elephants crossed the river and entered the boundary guarded by the electric fence.
Kinga Norbu also said that a range office would be constructed and will be ready in three months in Bichgaon, Nichula. The range office is expected to solve many wild animal problems for the gewog.
Foresters also said that people must take the initiative to clear the vegetation growing near the fencing.
PWS foresters also initiated a meeting with the people of Gangtokha on November 30. A team was formed and cleared the forests near the electric fencing.
So far FMCL lost more than 70 acres of farmed land to the elephants.
The FMCL CEO, Karma Thinlay, who was in Gangtokha said that it was not a loss. “The current phase is like a study,” he said, pointing out that the coming of the centre has benefited farmers in Gangtokha.
FMCL is also working on an alternative sound system to ward off the elephants. Karma Thinley said such system was tried in Hiley and Sompangkha in Sarpang. This sound system is expected to chase away the elephants before they reach the electric fencing.
FMCL will also cultivate 300 acres in another area of Nichula. At present the centre is planning to cultivate chillies on five acres.
That night the foresters were able to chase away the two elephants after an hour of struggle only for them to be spotted in the FMCL fields the next morning.
Rajesh Rai | Lhamoizingkha