A window destroyed by wild elephants in Damak Municipality-3, Jhapa in this recent picture. Roofing sheets of a hut destroyed by the wild elephants are piled in the premise of a house in Damak Municipality–3, Jhapa in this recent photo. Photos: Yubaraj Bibash/Republica
DAMAK, Sept 2: Residents of Damak have not slept well since the last three weeks. Alarmed by elephant menace, they patrol their surroundings through the entire night. They fear that in absence of patrolling the wild beasts may storm in any moment, kill and injure people and cattle, destroy their house. Guarding the settlement against the elephants has been stressful for the locals and they don’t see any solution to it.
“Elephant menace is not a new thing for us. For years, they have been stealing our peace of mind, destroying our houses, and killing people for long,” laments Man Bahadur Gurung, a local of Damak Municipality - 3. “We are helpless. This is our ancestral land and we cannot migrate anywhere else that easily also. We don’t have any options or resources to get rid of this stress,” he added.
Gurung was a teenager when he saw people being expressing their frustration of elephant attacks. He remembers them marching on human settlements and wreaking havoc by destroying huts, grains and would even scatter their cattle away. He has seen children die in such attacks and has seen women and men being attacked in the jungle.
“For many decades now, elephants have become a great source of our worry. Many people have died due to elephant attack in the last few years. Many have been injured,” Gurung said. “Such tragic incidents have happened before my own eyes. Still, we have not come up with any effective measures to control it,” he added.
Once again, ‘aggressive elephants’ are lurking in the vicinity of their settlements, local say. Since the last three weeks, villagers have been staying outside their home at night beating drums and steel plates and lighting bonfire, to shoo away the elephants. Along with that, they use several other techniques to keep elephants away.
“If we stay quiet even for some time, we might face disaster. We hardly know from where they are coming. So, we keep making noise and light fire whole night, to keep them away from the settlement,” said Gurung.
Youngsters have recently added firecrackers to the existing arsenal for shooing away elephants. They remain armed with stones and other domestic weapons, lest elephants appear around the settlement. But such measures have not stopped the elephants for attempting to attack human settlements.
On Saturday, five groups of elephants had a great tussle with locals. The elephants coming from Hamse and Dumse community forests destroyed eight houses including that of Gurung.
“Not only house, the elephants also destroyed our grains as well. Now, there is hardly anything left for us to eat,” he lamented. “We shooed them away from one point but they entered the community from another point,” he added.
According to another victim, Durga Devi Baral, her family has become homeless. She stated that it was not secure for the family to repair and start living in the house.
“We have seen their aggression. They are so wild. They could kill us yesterday, but we were a bit lucky to survive the attack,” she reported. “Out of fear, we had so many of sleepless nights, yet when they attacked we could not stop them and save our house,” she added.
Locals residing around the buffer zone are at the highest risk though elephants have reached farther settlements as well. Locals claim that predicting their movement is not possible. “We cannot predict which direction they will come from, or where they will go. Yesterday also we were cautious and on high alert, yet we were not able to defend our settlements when attacked us,” Baral noted. “We don’t know how to save our own life. Our lives are at risk,” she lamented.
Nabin Tamang, Jiwan Tamang and Ganga Maya Ghimire are other victims. The elephants destroyed their crops.
“They entered our sugarcane and corn fields and destroyed everything. There is nothing left in our fields and as such there is nothing left for us to harvest this year,” said Ghimire.
Tanka Baral, another victim, reported that an elephant smelled his kitchen by putting its trunk inside her kitchen. “It entered its trunk in my kitchen. It sniffed around the kitchen for a while and then pulled its trunk out. It was terrifying to see all that right in front of my eyes,” Baral said.
According to chairperson of Damak - 3, domestic techniques to control elephants have not worked and alleged that authorities concerned have not shown seriousness for resolving the matter, he alleges.
“Our simple tools and techniques have become ineffective for dealing with them. The government should come up with effective measures for getting rid of elephant terror,” he said. In the last two weeks, at least 30 families have been affected by elephant menace in Jhapa. The local government has decided to provide Rs 3,000 to 5,000 to the families depending on their loss. However, victim families claim that relief amount is too meager compared to their loss.
“We have lost house, crops, and cattle to the wild elephants. The meager relief amount that government is offering is too small. However, more than relief, what we want from the government is a permanent solution to the problem,” Gurung insisted. “We want the government to consider the matter seriously and do something about it,” he added.