The Elephant in the Octagon at UFC Gelephu (part 2)

Near Gelephu Airport; Sarpang- Gelephu PNH ( Pic: Kezang  Namgyel)

Of all the age-old and perpetual conflicts continuing to pervade the southern landscape of the country, one amongst others is recurrently seen to be the never ending human–elephant conflict in the region. The extent of this conflict both in size and scale is notably seen to be ever expanding and mounting over the years with accelerated frequency. A long term resolution to this human-elephant conflict continues to appear to be a distant reality even whilst a peaceful coexistence of the elephant and human is seen to be a perilous delusion and a withdrawn outlook of hope and despair.  A colossal approach that will derail the chain and design of this conflict have continued to remain elusive to this day.

Gelephu is witnessing an exponential growth in the recent years. The burgeoning settlement in the region invariably appears to have abridged the space to such an extent that the elephant and the residents continue to come into closer contact at an alarming rate more than ever before in the past. The outcome of such conflict and contact as we have witnessed in the past have always resulted in catastrophic and dismaying adversities bringing about unimaginable losses to both lives and properties of the residents. Visibly, there is no clear signpost to gauge the extent of the duration until we begin to see a clear light at the end of this human-elephant conflict in the region.

Whist attempts to bring about an end to this conflict is proportionate to a Himalayan task, reducing and minimizing the extent of the outcome of conflict appears to be the emergent call of the hour. The sheer size of the elephants and its herd in itself is synonymous to fighting a losing battle. There is no doubt that a reverberation of agreement is in the air amongst the residents and past victims of the conflicts to restrain and limit the size of this human-elephant conflicts whatsoever.

What is more enthralling and worrying in the new episode of the human-elephant conflict in the recent time is the spiraling fear and terror unleashed by these herds of elephants in this region. Besides the multifaceted damages to properties and agricultural produces, over time elephant attacks have become more rampant. At least three incidents of elephant attacks have been reported this year alone in which a man has been killed and another critically injured. These attacks reportedly were all accidental and were not even remotely imagined to occur. With mounting threats and dangers to the lives of the residents from the elephants around the corners, there is an eminent immediacy from all corners to lay across and underpin a synergized plan of action and outcome. It is about time the administration machinery, local government,  agencies responsible and residents  walk  an extra mile in both spirit and action and bring about an inclusive countdown to this chapter of conflict and predicament.

A blaring and a naked cause of alarming concern now known for widening the pathways to elephant encroachment into the human settlement and keeping this pot of conflicts and attacks boiling have been seen to be unfailingly revolving around the fallow land in this region. The much ostracized and unchecked fallow lands with owners spread out across the length and breadth of the country and outside appears to provide a safe haven and passage to the herds of elephants through which this quandary of human elephant conflicts invariably continues unyielding and unabated. 

For now, the key to destabilizing and downsizing the threat of elephant encroachment and attacks undoubtedly rests within the window of mass clearing of these fallow lands in the region.  The vegetation cover over these fallow land must not only be vanquished but stringently monitored and checked should the threat of elephant encroachment and attacks be laid to rest. The risks to the lives of the people must matter most over the options to wait and watch.

From a scientific approach of redesigning an electric solar fencing to a conventional approach of digging waterholes and burning firecrackers, all possible strategies to combat the human elephant conflicts have been seen to be tried and tested of which none have empirically been discovered to be effective against the mighty herds of the elephants.

There is an overwhelming sense of urgency to scan and revisit this issue one more time and lay out consorted effort from all corners to switch off the ever ringing alarm bell of human-elephant conflicts in the region. While conflicts of this stature cannot be erased off the land with a single stroke of rock-solid plan and not fundamental though, the least we could do is overturn and derail bigger catastrophe before it snowballs any further.

Contributed by:

Kezang Namgyel

Bhutan Hydropower Services Limited

Jigmiling, Gelephu