By Michael Shylla
Many of us know that elephants have been part of the Indian culture and mythology from time immemorial. Elephants are worshiped and respected all over India. They are possibly the most important animal in the animal kingdom. Their size, strength, anatomical peculiarities, intelligence, irresistible appeal and usefulness have made them lovable and at the same time terrific. They evoke strong emotions and opinions, but all this is irrelevant to the authorities of Narangi Military Station in Guwahati.
The army-elephant tussle in the Narangi Military Station is causing a serious concern for the authorities of Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, NGOs and animal lovers. The military station is sharing a common border with the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary has an estimated hundreds of wild elephants and most of them enter the military station which falls on the path of the pachyderms in search of food and water. In view of this, the army station has set up permanent cemented barriers with sharp iron spikes (6 inches tall) to secure its supply depot, which elephants use to enter frequently in search of food.
Gargaraj Nath, a senior forest guard on duty at the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, Bonda narrated a sad incident that took place in December 2018 when one of its female elephants was seriously hurt and injured in the foot while crossing a sharp iron-spike barrier put up by the army.
By the time the nine-year-old otherwise healthy elephant was found with her injuries, the wound was in a bad shape and the animal could no longer move or walk. She was treated by the veterinary doctors in the military area. It was a terrible condition. The elephant became emaciated due to severe illness of septicemia and fractured bones in the leg and foot and died in March 2019.
The forest guard also told during the past one year, two more elephants died under similar circumstances and another injured animal could be treated effectively. It is also learnt from the villagers working in the military campus that elephants are regularly cited with traumatic injuries on their body and are roaming around the military station.
According to records with Guwahati Wildlife Division, the carcass of a 9-10 year old, 1500 kg male elephant was found near a stream in the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary in Guwahati on March 4, 2019. The post-mortem report noted externally there are various punctured wounds on the right fore and hind legs. The report said the wild elephants died due to septicemia. A month before the female elephant died at the Narangi Military Station, the Forest Department had warned against the “cruel measures that would defeat the very point of wildlife protection”.
The Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary also wrote to the Indian Army and requested it to “do away with (such) detrimental measures against innocent animals” as the sharp iron spikes have seriously injured many animals in the past and also killed five elephants of the sanctuary. This kind of cruel efforts to keep elephants at bay is definitely going to defeat the very point of Wildlife Protection and Preservation that the Forest Department had written.
The initial reports state that the cause of deaths of many elephants is due to “septicemia” and fractures (of legs) while noting injuries to the elephants’ legs. However, it is the nature of the injuries which had led the Forest Department to conclude that the deaths were caused by a bed of 6-inch long iron spikes laid down by the Army inside the cantonment adjacent to the sanctuary.
The spiralling cases of man-elephant conflict had been a raging issue in Assam and adjacent areas of North Bengal. Since 2010, 214 elephants and 761 people have died in the state with the rates of both human and elephant casualties increasing every year.
The World Wildlife Day is observed every year on March 3 to celebrate and create awareness on the World’s Wild Flora and Fauna. It is celebrated to mark the signing of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in this day in 1973 in Washington DC.
The Assam government should take immediate and proper steps to tackle and stop the unlawful, brutal and uncivilised act of the army which is against the law passed and constituted by Parliament on forest and wildlife laws, implemented by the states of the country.
(The author is former director of the Ministry of Information &
Broadcasting, Photo division)