Wednesday, October 4, 2023
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Understanding the elephant in our room


DIMAPUR, SEPTEMBER 17: Forest Minister CL John’s ill-conceived joke and quixotic attempt inside the NLA to downplay the loss of human lives to wild elephant attacks in Wokha District has had the inadvertent effect of sustaining a conversation around human-wildlife conflict.
Against this backdrop, it is crucial to understand the presence of wild elephants in some parts of Nagaland in the context of the elephant population in Northeast India.
Asian elephants are long ranging species with extensive habitat and nutritional requirements. At the same time, wildlife habitats in India are no exception to the phenomenon of fragmentation and degradation.
“This has adversely affected the populations of larger herbivores like elephants, which have vast home ranges and require large amounts of food. This has led to increased conflict between humans and elephants, manifesting in crop-raiding, damage to property and loss of human and elephant lives.
“About 400-450 humans lose their lives due to human elephant conflict in India annually, and around 100 elephants are killed in retaliation for the damage they cause to human life and property”, according to the Right of Passage: Elephant Corridors of India report published by Wildlife Trust of India.
In its second and latest edition published in 2017, the report stated that elephants in Northeastern India range in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.
“The elephant population in the Northeast was contiguous with that of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. The 9650-odd elephants in the region are now discontinuously distributed and exist as 15 populations in an area of about 8900 sq km”, it read.
Though Nagaland doesn’t have specific elephant corridors of its own, the State’s elephant population is a part of the larger group that ranges on the south bank of Brahmaputra in Assam.
“Elephants on the south bank of the Brahmaputra are divided into eastern, central and western populations. The eastern population is spread over lower Dibang Valley, Lohit, Changlang and Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat and Golaghat in Assam, and Mon, Tuensang, Mokokchung and Wokha in Nagaland.
“The population lost its contiguity with the north bank in the 1970s and the central area of south bank in the 1980s. An estimated 1200 elephants occupy about 4500 sq km of forests in the area, though they also use tea plantations and agricultural lands as they move”, the report stated.
It also identified a few isolated elephant populations along the Dhansiri-Intanki region, covering parts of Karbi Anglong district in Assam and Peren district in Nagaland.
“About 300-350 elephants are estimated in about 1050 sq km of territory. Elephants regularly move between Dhansiri and Intanki across the inter-State boundary. Inside Assam, they move between Dhansiri and Daldali and adjacent forests affected by human pressure”, the report read.
Despite the fragmentation of the eastern range, elephants still move through tea gardens and cultivated areas. This range became separated from the north Brahmaputra bank population during the 1970s and from the south bank-central areas in the early 1980s.
“The separation from the south bank-central areas was due to large-scale felling and encroachment in Doyang Reserve Forest, Nambor (South Block) Reserve Forest, Diphu Reserve Forest and Rengma Reserve Forest, totalling about 990 sq km of forest area.
“The range is spread over lower Dibang Valley and Lohit, Changlang and Tirap districts in Arunachal Pradesh; Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Charaideo, Jorhat and Golaghat districts in Assam; and Mon, Tuensang, Mokokchung and Wokha districts in Nagaland”, it reported.
Again, this range has been fragmented at many places, the most notable being the area along Dhansiri River (Doyang Reserve Forest, Nambor South Reserve Forest, Rengma Reserve Forest and Diphu Reserve Forest), thereby severely hindering the movement of elephants between this part of Assam and Nagaland.
“Till the 1980s elephant movement was reported between Rengma Reserve Forest (Assam) and Baghty Valley (Nagaland), between the villages of Sungkha and Lishuya. Similarly, elephant movement from Desoi Reserve Forest and Hollongapahar (Assam) to adjacent elephant habitat in Nagaland has been severely hindered by habitat degradation in Assam and Nagaland”, it stated.
Also, a part of the elephant population of Changlang district in Arunachal is continuous with that of Myanmar through a corridor in Namdhapa National Park, the report found.
“However, all the other probable migration routes through Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh and Mon and Tuensang districts of Nagaland are no longer available due to heavy poaching by the Konyak and the Wancho Nagas and clearance for jhum”, it stated.
In 2018, Nagaland Government had declared the Singphan Wildlife Sanctuary in Mon district as Singphan Elephant Reserve. As per the census report of 2017, Nagaland is home to a population of around 446 elephants.
(Page News Service)