SILCHAR: British after annexing the valley in 1832, undivided Cachar, found it as the habitat of elephants. The longest corridor from Bangladesh to Myanmar, Mizoram and Tripura passed through Cachar that helped the pachyderm to move freely and easily. And the British planters used them for their safe plantation of tea bushes and movement through the dense forests of wilds. Various factors, most important being unbridled rise in human population and random rap on nature and greenery, have taken their toll on elephants heavily. The surviving herd of 5 elephants only in Patharia Hills of Patharkandi on the western border of Karimganj is now fighting for their existence.
It shares an international border with Bangladesh and represents the unique habitats of various flora and fauna. The hillocks intermingle with grassy lands and streams to support wildlife. But, important mammals inhabiting the area are critically endangered. Chinese pangolin, Asiatic elephants, Himalayan porcupine, Bengal slow loris and many other species are on the verge of extinction. There is no concern for them from responsible quarters concerned.
The elephants in the reserve forests often move to the Bangladesh side of the same reserve wilds. Their migratory corridor extends from the Juri range of Bangladesh to the Tilbhum reserve forest through the Patharia Hills. The status of the reserve forest and the corridor due to severe anthropogenic threats such as encroachment for human settlements, betel nut, rubber plantation has been under pressure with the forest departments of Karimganj and Sylhet looking the other way. The political will of successive governments in Assam to save the helpless elephants has also been lacking.
Nazimur Rahman Talukdar, a research scholar of Assam University working under the supervision of Dr Parthankar Choudhury, has been monitoring the movement of the elephants of the area. Prof Choudhury shared that rapid land use and land cover transformation has resulted in the man-elephant clash which continues to increase. Over the last two decades, the population of elephants has come down rapidly. According to records, it was 18 in 1978 which was reduced to 8 in 1999.
The tragic tale is that the lone male in the herd was killed in 2012 in retaliation by BSF, bringing down their number to 7. The youngest female elephant around 13 years of age died due to electrocution. Two others died in resistance by bow used by farmers to save their crops. At present, the herd of 5, all females, needs a male to maintain a viable population. Prof Choudhury suggested habitat restoration through reforestation and protection of corridors through bio-fencing.
Planting the deterrence nature of plants such as chilly, lemon along with apiculture practice will be good bio-fence. Patharia Hills should be upgraded to reserve forest and sanctuary. Most important, the translocation of a male elephant to Patharia Hills is of prime importance.