Tree-borne night vigilantes
By Dillip Pradhan
Dhenkanal: When the entire locality enjoys the dreamy nights after a day-long tiredness, the farmers of some villagers in Dhenkanal district spend sleepless nights, not in the quiet comforts of their homes but atop tree outside their villages.
To protect their standing crops from the rampage of wild elephants, the ryots of Palagandua, Kasipur,Puruna Amanga and Bhaliapat under Sadangi range in the district work in their paddy fields throughout the day and stay awake all night using mashals (torches), sirens and fire crackers in an attempt to chase away the elephants. The fearful farmers are habituated in the practice of dispersing the animals at night and subsequently devising strategies to drive away the pachyderms.
When the jumbos chase them in a fit of rage, the farmers take refuge in the treehouse- a small hut made of bamboo, palm leaf and hay. They scamper up home-made bamboo ladders to their elevated huts whenever they hear the thundering roars.
“We can also see the movements of the elephants far away atop the tree and accordingly alterted fellow farmers of the neraby areas by beating drums. Mobile phones act a major medium of communication during the time”, Gopal Lenka, a farmer of Palagandua village, said.
He added that the forest officials also come to the spot very often on receiving calls and assisted the farming community in protection of crops.
The dawn and dusk are the most crucial times for the farmers, during which they have to be extra alert. “As the elephants in herd come out of the forest in the evening in search of food, we have to remain prepared during that time. Similarly, the animals return to their habitat in the dawn time during which there is chances of the crops being destroyed”, Basant Sahoo, another farmer said.
Although the forest department has provided the farmers with powerful high beam torch lights to chase away jumbos, the farmers alleged that these are not enough to deal with the animals at night. “The forest department should furnish more such torches to us”, Sahoo added.
The wildlife experts also echo similar views as an easy way of driving away the pachyderms unhurt. “Apart from spending huge amounts in solar fencing, trench digging, the Forest department should provide seven to eight such torches to each community centre in villages for chasing the elephants. I consider it as a most cost effective measure for the government, which spend enormous amount for same reason”, activist and wild life expert Ranjit Patnaik said.
The government is providing Rs 1000 per acre to farmers facing elephant menace. “Moreover, this amount is disbursed late and not during harvesting period, which leads to anger of peasants. As a result, sometimes they (farmers) are found instigating poachers to kill animals. The money given to the ryots are often considered as the ‘compassionate’ and not ‘compensation’. The forest department should change such mindset at the earliest”, Patnaik rued.
Spurred by the loss of their forest habitats, the elephants are forced to venture into human habitation leading to a man-animal conflict.