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Sentinel Digital Desk

Bio fencing project by WWF-Apeejay Tea in Sonitpur gardens

By Our Staff Reporter

Guwahati, April 9: Plans are afoot to erect bio fencings of thorny bamboo in tea gardens of Assam to prevent man-elephant conflicts and reduce crop damage. This is the first time that bio fencing will be used as protection that is safe for elephants and other wildlife.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) India has tied up with Apeejay Tea for the pilot project to be implemented in four gardens of the company in Sonitpur district, worst hit by man-elephant conflict.

Under the agreement, a series of interventions will be made besides assessing the damage caused by pachyderms.

"WWF has been working to mitigate man-elephant conflict in the North Bank. Now, with the agreement with Apeejay Tea, our focus will be more on the tea gardens where a bulk of the cases of man-elephant conflict has been reported," Anupam Sharma of WWF told The Sentinel.

Besides awareness, thorny bamboo based bio fencings will be erected at strategic locations to act as a repellent for the elephants. The project envisages mapping the new paths that elephants have established to move away from forest areas. This will be done for the first time in the tea gardens.

The Apeejay Tea magement said the route used by elephants in their Sessa Tea Estate to reach the other parts of forest will soon be formalized as an elephant movement corridor. The corridor will be hedged by continuous bio fencing of thorny bamboo thickets.

According to the WWF, electric fencing is costly and requires regular maintence. In contrast, bio fencing is cheap, tural, least intrusive and hardly needs any maintence.

The bamboo saplings will be raised in the four tea gardens of Sessa, Ghoirallie, Dhulapadung and Borjuli in Sonitpur district of Assam.

During the three-year-project period, WWF and Apeejay Tea plan to raise 40,000 thorny bamboo saplings which will be later planted along the perimeters of tea gardens.

On an average, 400 people get killed in India each year in conflicts with elephants.

Sonitpur is among the top three affected districts in the country, recording 206 human and 131 elephant fatalities between 2006 and 2009.

More than half such human fatalities have occurred in tea estates. From 2001 to 2013, out of 235 people who died in Sonitpur due to man-elephant conflict, 127 people were from tea estates. The large number of people killed by elephants escalated in 2001, leading to 32 elephants being killed in retaliation in a single year.

For wildlife conflict magement, the WWF will also use also use low-cost energizer fencing, use captive elephants called 'Kunki' to drive wild elephants away, use anti-depredation squads and elephant squads.

A structure to monitor man-elephant conflict in Sonitpur district and replicate it in gaon, Golaghat, Sibsagar and Tinsukia districts will be developed. As part of the plan, 16 monitors will be put in place in various strategic locations of the district to gather maximum information of the raiding elephants and damage done.

The WWF, under its Human Elephant Conflict Magement Initiative, has taken other measures like community-maged power fencing, use of bio-repellents like chilli and setting up of early warning systems to meet the challenge. Logistic and other critical support is being provided to the forest department for maging the conflict and strengthening anti-poaching measures.

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