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Shifting from Human-Wildlife conflict to Co-existence A successful elephant conservation project in Subankhata

This is the post excerpt.

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By Dora Godinho

What does it take to mitigate and eradicate human-wildlife conflicts sustainably?

Each region and each type of conflict is a unique case but all conservationists would agree that we cannot resolve human-wildlife conflicts without a holistic approach. Such approach includes education and awareness, habitat restoration activities, capacity building and mobilization of different stakeholders and most importantly – empowerment and active participation of local communities.

In Northeast India, conflicts between people and elephants has become more frequent over the last decades due to  a number of reasons, in particular encroachment, human settlements and land conversion for agricultural production and grazing in elephant corridors. All of which occurs in a context where human population increases, the resources shrink and the global climate changes.

Habitat loss and fragmentation have devastating consequences for elephants as they are compelled to penetrate human habited areas in search of food, hence destroying plantations, crops and properties which amplify the conflicts with people and retaliatory killing.

Without intervention, these conflicts will increase and consequently, many human lives will be destroyed and elephant population will continue to decrease leading towards eventual extinction. In fact, Asian elephant population has been in permanent decline and these charismatic animals are today threatened with extinction.

But we cannot let that happen and this is where conservationists can intervene to help protect both elephants and local communities in the long run by orchestrating and developing win-win situations and direct benefits for both parties.

Much progress has been made in research, and today we are able to better understand the movements, behaviors and habitat uses of elephants.  Such data collection is critical and is also the first step of conservation action

A few years ago, an innovative elephant conservation project was initiated in Subankhata, in ChirangRipu Elephant Reservein the eastern part of Manas National Park. This region had witnessed several tragic incidents which resulted in the loss of human lives and the subsequent retaliatory elephant killing.

The overall goal of the project was the long term protection and the survival of the Asian elephant in the Reserve, through encouragement and strengthening the capacity of local grassroots level NGOs and local communities in the restoration of degraded habitat, mitigation of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) and support of alternative livelihoods.

The major challenge in this project was undoubtedly the involvement of the villagers in conservation, helping them to understand the direct link between conservation and the development of their communities from which they can highly benefit.  But this can only happen through capacity building and immediate attainment of direct benefits. One of these benefits was the installation of a 14 km community based electric fencing which protects the villagers, their properties and crops from elephant intrusion. The installation of the electric fence appears to be very effective in keeping the elephants away. Since then, no major incidents were reported and the villagers are now sleeping safely and peacefully.

The electric fences are well managed by the members of the community. Thanks to the creation of eight Village Anti-depredation Committee (VAC) which have been formed among the 6 most affected villages and equipped with torch lights, temporary watch towers and 10 mobile for communication, HEC can be further monitored and mitigated.

In total, more than 200 families diversified their livelihood to sustainable activities such as mushroom farming, beekeeping, piggery, embroidery, handloom and handicrafts for forest dependent women among other socio-economic schemes. All are direct benefits from conservation which help reduce their dependency on forests and make them self-dependent to solve their issues at their community level. These activities are expected to boost up much needed and lasting contribution to biodiversity conservation in the project site. To support this objective, several educational and awareness events have  been carried out such as “Haati Mere Sathi Campaign”, Observation of Elephant Day, Celebration of World Environment Day, Summer school programme, Awareness and exhibition during the local festive time and a couple of awareness campaign on the issues of human elephant conflict.

The most important action to reduce pressure on the natural resources of the remaining forest patches was the creation of a 5000 sq. m community nursery for raising seedlings, with a purpose of reforestation in the nearby degraded forest. A total of 120,000 organic saplings of locally available tree species were raised in the nursery and planted successfully in 4ha of degraded land (out of which 1 ha of land is bordered with electric fencing) by students, villagers and other stakeholders. The survival rate is almost 80%.

The passionate volunteers of the local NGO – ManasChowki Ecotourism Society (MSKETS) contributed immensely to this project. They participated in most of the project activities and resolved to play a key role in ensuring the durability of such activities. In order to encourage the community based resource pool for a long term HEC management and to strengthen the capacity of MKSETS, a floriculture nursery and an ecotourism initiative was also developed.

These project components complement each other to provide a holistic approach and help generate a positive shift in people’s behaviors and attitudes towards elephants and conservation.

This project had a huge impact in reducing HEC in the targeted area and is expected to leave a permanent legacy by leaving in place a long term framework and a model to reduce the levels of human elephant conflict. It also demonstrates how much we can achieve when we work hand in hand, at all levels of the society, towards a better future – one where people and wildlife can thrive and coexist.

Note:  This project was funded by the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund of US FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE

 

AUTHOR BIO:

Dora Godinho is a Portuguese national. With a background in specialized education, she moved to Switzerland where she worked for several events and communication agencies. Her passion for nature led her to obtain a diploma as “Sustainable Development Consultant” in 2011 by the WWF Training Center, Switzerland. She co-founded Geoimpulse, an association aimed at promoting renewable energies and worked as a freelance for both the private sector and NGOs including Greenpeace before joining IUCN in 2013. Dora was in charge of partnerships and donor relations for IUCN’s SOS – Save Our Species programme. She loves travelling to India, Yoga and meditation and recently volunteered with Aaranyak.

E-mail: godinhodora@hotmail.com

 

 

 

AARANYAK’s wish list for the NEW YEAR

Dr. Bibhab Kumar Talukdar

CEO & Secretary General of Aaranyak

As nature craves for regeneration after centuries of onslaught from the mankind which has devised innumerable ways to exploit nature’s resources for its comfort and material progress, but few ways to regenerate and conserve the global ecology and environment.

In such a crisis situation, vastly verdant and pristine nature in Northeast India, that is part of Eastern Himalaya and Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspots, needs concerted efforts for conservation of its nature and resources (both floral and faunal), rivers and other water bodies for the wellbeing of not only the country but the entire planet.

So, Aaranyak hopes that policy makers of all the N-E states resort to out of box thinking to work out well coordinated policy covering the region-wide conservation issues given that state boundaries are man-made only. The entire region needs uniform and need-based strategy and regional coordination among policy makers for conservation of precious nature.

Economic progress and infrastructure development is of course required for the strategically positioned Northeastern region. However, conservation of nature should be also given equal priority in the region where the nature provides livelihood options and sources of sustenance for millions. It is of prime important to realise that some infrastructures found suitable (like multi-lane highways) for the rest of the country may not be required at all in the Northeast where building such infrastructure is bound to cause irreparable damages to resourceful hills, forests and rivers. We need infrastructure that suits the environment in the region, not those at the cost of our environment.

Raging human elephant conflict as cause for concern

The Elephant in India is declared as Heritage Animal. Human beings and elephants have lived for ages in harmony. However, in past two years, human-elephant conflict (HEC) in Assam has gone out of control with casualties in both human and elephants are shooting up. Doesn’t it merit for immediate discussion at government level? Increasing ex-gratia for death of humans due to elephant charge outside the forest area is not the ultimate solution. The current human-elephant conflict has to be averted through time-bound steps in the ground. It is the need of the hour.

In Assam, the human-elephant conflict has been noticed more in Udalguri, Sonitpur, Nagaon, Karbi Anglong, Golaghat and Majuli districts. We all know that the main reason for such increase in the level of conflict is due to rapid decline of forest cover in parts of Assam, loss of traditional elephant movement paths due to linear infra-structure development projects and also due to human encroachment.

The entire conflict situation needs to be given Disaster Status and funds need to be procured accordingly from concerned department(s). The efforts put up by Assam Government in the last two years to save rhinos have desired results as rhino poaching in Assam has reduced in these two years due to commitment of the government. Same commitment and time-bound action are now needed to convert human-elephant conflict to human-elephant co-existence.

Preservation of rivers and other water bodies

Human greed is insatiable and that is well reflected rampant exploitation of our rivers and other natural water bodies in Assam and the rest of the region. Rivers are exploited not only because of fishes and other consumable aquatic species but also for sand.

Encroachment on water bodies are found unregulated even though there are laws existing for protection of these. Enforcement of these laws are found wanting which needs to be augmented as water bodies are core of nature

The hills are priceless, cutting must stop

Unplanned and unregulated Cutting and blasting of hills for setting up human settlement and build infrastructure, rampant quarrying of stones are the worst kind of damages caused to Mother Nature. Unfortunately, it has become a routine affair in the entire Northeast. It is high time all the NE states join efforts to save our hills that are so vital for the protection of the ecosystem in the region cutting across man-made state boundaries.

Time has come to consider unregulated hill cutting a heinous crime that warrant stringent punishment. Suitable region-wide law has to be put in place to facilitate the same.

Kaziranga Park needs respite from human pressure

The unique biodiversity of Kaziranga National Park is priceless. However, because of the park’s advantageous location by the arterial national highway as well as Brahmaputra Waterway, the park that boasts of a treasure trove of one-horned rhinoceros is always in the limelight from the aspects of tourism as well as conservation initiatives. However, overcrowding of human activities is not going to augur well for the park in the long run.

The most effective way to lessen the pressure on Kaziranga is to develop and promote other national parks and wildlife sanctuaries like those in Manas, Orang, Pabitora, Nameri, Dibru-Saikhowa etc. so that new vistas are created for the nature buff to exploit and take recourse too. Once other parks are developed at par, all will enjoy equal importance from conservation and tourism points of view.

Aaranyak – an example of women empowerment

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Aaranyak, in Sanskrit, means ‘to belong to the forest.’  Doing justice to its very meaningful name, since its inception in 1989, Aaranyak has been tirelessly working to conserve the rich biodiversity of Northeast India.

Having completed 27 years, Aaranyak has been able to work in the field of biodiversity research and conservation not only in India but also globally, carving a niche for itself in this area. Aaranyak has a lineup of enthusiastic staff comprising of wildlife and environmental scientists, researchers, community workers, educators and environmental legal specialists and last but not the least staff from public relation, administration and finance background to support office management.

It is imperative to see that Aaranyak has women engagement in all areas of work, whether it be research, conservation, education, public relations or day to day office management. Aaranyak as such has set up a good example of women empowerment within the organization. Having provided a good platform for women engagement towards the conservation of biodiversity, Aaranyak’s women power is already brining national and international accolades to the organization and to the region.

Interestingly, at a time when it was rare to come across women who chose to make their career in this field, Aaranyak’s  Purnima Devi Barman, better known as Hargrila Baideo or the Stork Sister among communities and global conservation colleagues, was hired at Aaranyak as the first employee. Purnima is a pioneer in the conservation of the highly endangered Greater Adjutant Storks (Leptoptilos dubius).  As a result of Purnima’s efforts in its nesting villages like Dadara, Pasaria and Singimari, the same community that had once regarded the species as inauspicious and untouchables, is now actively engaged in its conservation.

A dedicated conservationist in the field, Purnima is a doting mother to her twin daughters and a super supportive wife to her conservationist husband at home.

Alolika Sinha, fascinated since childhood with the lush greenery and curious colorful creatures in her small hometown of western Assam, her stride in wildlife research began with a small project to study water birds in a local wetland- Dheer beel. Her conservation efforts spanning in central Assam, she is presently studying the endangered species, Hog deer (Axis porcinus) in Manas National Park.  

Over the years she has worked in various projects in Aaranyak in different landscapes. She also actively worked for mitigating Human-elephant conflict in western and central Assam. She loves writing and enjoys reading and travelling when not working.

Rumana Maheen, a researcher on population genetics and forensics with the Wildlife Genetics Division of Aaranyak. Her journey with Aaranyak that began during her Master’s dissertation has continued; and today Rumana is the newest woman researcher to have joined the Aaranyak workforce.  She has also keen interest in Lepidoptera and curious about all things related be it at the macro level or molecular level.

Having Master of Arts in Sociology, Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Bachelor of Arts in Education, Madhumita Borthakur joined Aaranyak back in the year 2008. From then she was in different responsibilities starts from administrative roles to direct and indirect conservation activities. Now she is working as a GIS analysts with the Geo-spatial Technology Application Division of Aaranyak. Similarly Kongseng Konwar, working as a database officer of Aaranyak since December 2014, has contributed towards the improvement and implementation of new ideas into Administrative activities of Aaranyak. Currently she is working for the Geospatial Technology Application Division (GTAD) of Aaranyak as GIS analysts.

A young geographer, budding newspaper columnist and a creative writer, Juri Baruah contributes thorough her skills in the Water, Climate and Hazard Division of Aaranyak. Her research interests include geography of gender, political space and the challenging spaces caused by disaster and climate change.

Binita Baruwati is a full-time conservationist dedicating her days and nights to conserve tigers and habitats in the Manas expanse. Earlier she worked as Researcher for an occupancy survey of Fishing Cat on Floodplains of Brahmaputra valley. Her rich experience of conservation also includes working with the protection forces to ensure survival of the national animal of India.

After completing master degree in Mass communication & Journalism from Tezpur University Munmita Boruah, had joined Aaranyak in 2016 as the Public Relations and Communications Officer of the organization.  From maintaining different publicity orientated work, publishing of in-house journals, along with Annual report of the organization she is engaged with maintaining relationship with different media houses.

While researches, scientists and other staff wander in their sites at length, Binita Subba and Bijoyinee Sarma is engaged in  management of accounts and administration at the office, paying eye to the smallest of data and details, thereby ensuring smooth functioning of the entire organization.   

Bobby Nath the Administrative Officer of the organisation is bestowed with the challenging responsibility of managing Aaranyak office. She had join Aaranyak in 2017.  

It is time women change the fact, it is time the society encourage more mother, wives, daughter and sisters to follow their passion and become awesome professionals in every field of work. We celebrate the wonderful women engaged in Aaranyak and take pride in setting an example of women empowerment in the society.

                                                                                                    By-  Munmita Boruah