The conflict between humans and elephants - each fighting for space and food in this densely populated area called the North Bank Landscape (NBL) - is taking lives on both sides. Up to 3000 elephants inhabit the NBL and since 2001, this growing conflict between people and elephants has resulted in the deaths of 125 humans and 70 elephants. This year, (2006) 12 people and eleven elephants have been killed and although fatalities have actually halved since WWF's on-the-ground intervention since 2004, according to the WWF-NBL team, human-elephant conflict itself is on the rise in the region.
Originally a continuous belt of rich forest cover, the NBL is being progressively cleared or converted for development and farmed by illegal settlers. Humans have also disrupted important migratory corridors used by elephants for centuries. Additionally, due to human encroachment within nature reserves and protected areas, elephant herds are coming out to unfamiliar territories in search of food, even to the banks of the Brahmaputra River. Observations suggest that the elephants are no longer scared of fire torches and drum beats used by farmers to keep the animals away from their fields. The current use of strong searchlights has proven effective, but the villagers have little or no access to this equipment - they also fear that the elephants could get used to these lights in a few years.
To try and prevent casualties occurring on both sides, WWF's work in the North Bank Landscape has focused on using non-destructive methods to reduce contact and conflict between humans and elephants in this fragile area and has developed a two-phased strategy in consultation with the Assam and Arunachal Forest Departments. The main aims are to reduce elephant deaths through a conflict-mitigation strategy, and to restore critical habitats and corridors by working together with forest departments and local communities. On the ground, WWF has also led initiatives such as carefully planned elephant drives where trained domesticated elephants known as 'kunkis' push wild elephants out of cropland and into designated wildlife corridors.
Dr Anupam Sarmah who coordinates WWF's NBL programme said: "Because of habitat loss, elephants are finding it consistently harder to find adequate food and forest cover, this is why they are moving - into what has now become - human inhabited areas." Sarmah continued: "But people have to live somewhere and a balance has to be established where the needs of both elephants and people are addressed, only then can both live in harmony with each other."
You can support WWF's North Bank Landscape programme and other WWF projects by tuning in to ITV's Extinct and voting for the Asian elephant - go to extinct.wwf.org.uk
"...a balance has to be established where the needs of both elephants and people are addressed"
Dr Anupam Sarmah, WWF's NBL programme coordinator