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Marauding Elephants In Indian Northeast To Be Neighed Away

Assam has India's largest population of Asiatic elephants (pictured), estimated at around 5,000.
by Staff Writers
Guwahati, India (AFP) Sep 26, 2006
Hungry wild elephants in India's northeast are to be kept in check by playing recordings of neighing horses, putting up power fences and, in some cases, by taking their young, officials said Tuesday. Conservationists, officials, elephant owners and villagers came up with the plans Monday at an emergency meeting on how to reduce the increasing turf wars between humans and elephants in the state of Assam.

Shrinking forests and encroachment on traditional elephant territory by people have forced the animals to stray from their habitats into human settlements in the quest of food, often with deadly results.

"We shall appeal to the Indian government to allow capturing of elephant calves as there is a growing demand from the affected people and experts who endorse such a move," senior Assam wildlife official M.C. Malakar told AFP.

Elephants have killed 239 people in Assam state in the past five years while 265 elephants have died during the same period, a wildlife department report released ahead of the meeting said

Villagers traditionally captured wild elephant calves by using trained decoy elephants but the practice was banned by the federal government in 1995.

Local trainers believe that taking a young calf away from its herd encourages the remaining elephants to move away from the inhabited area.

"Once a calf is segregated the herd moves back to the forest and in that way capturing of elephants could help in reducing the conflict," elephant trainer A. Das said.

The captured calves are then domesticated and used to ferry visitors to wildlife sanctuaries in Assam and also by forest rangers to patrol the parks.

Officials also plan to adopt another village tradition to drive off marauding elephants.

"We were told at the meeting by a village elder that elephants get scared when they hear the sound of horses neighing," said state forest and wildlife minister Rockybul Hussain.

"This is not scientifically proven but we decided to implement his suggestion on an experimental basis."

The recordings would be an alternative to the increasingly aggressive steps being taken by villagers, including poisoning elephants and beating drums or bursting firecrackers.

"We shall be recording the sound of horses neighing and then play the same over loudspeakers," Malakar said.

The state will also conduct an awareness campaign to relocate elephant habitats and evict people settled illegally in forest areas.

"We shall first ask the encroachers to vacate the forest areas and if our campaign fails we shall have to evict them, although this is not going to be an easy task," Malakar said.

Satellite imagery shows that between 1996 and 2000, villagers encroached on some 280,000 hectares (691,880 acres) of thick forest in Assam.

In farming areas, power fences will also be erected to keep elephant herds from damaging crops, the environment minister said.

Assam has India's largest population of Asiatic elephants, estimated at around 5,000.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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