Elephant menace irks Chuzergang farmers

While some farmers are seeking compensation for crop loss, others are deserting their trade out of frustration

Human-wildlife conflict turned so sour and nightmarish in Chuzergang Gewog under Sarpang Dzongkhag that some people in the area have abandoned agriculture to the tune of menace caused by wild elephants.

Farmers of Chaskar village played victim to increased movement of wild elephants and are now seeking compensation from the government for the loss of their crops. Wild elephants destroyed paddy fields covering approximately four lanes of cultivation of land in Chaskar village few days ago.

These elephants, straying from Assam border, entered the villages and ravaged the paddy crops, according to the local residents. “We spent considerable amount on planting the paddy, but the elephants decimated our crops last night, consuming all of it,” a local resident, Rakesh Dungmali lamented.

“Consequently, we will need to purchase paddy in the upcoming days.” The farmer said that he has procured farm machinery and it would be a waste if there is no harvest.

A farmer, Sitaram Dahal, and his wife spent sleepless nights guarding their paddy farmland from wild elephants for over a week at the field. Yet, they failed to stop the wild elephants from feasting on the lanes of paddy which was almost due be harvested one of these days.

Sitaram Dahal said that he and his wife guard the field at night in routine. “We have complained to the villager leaders and related officials. But we did not get any response.”

As the paddy grown in their farmland is peaking on the harvest stage, the couple is putting additional efforts and spending sleepless nights guarding the paddy field from the wild elephants, especially during night.

While some of the residents of the affected villages have given up agriculture, people like Dirglal Acharya continues to involve himself in paddy cultivation and is guarding his farmland during night hours for over more than a month until the harvesting season.

Besides paddy, the elephants also destroyed areca nuts. Farmers Business Bhutan talked to opined that their harvest won’t even suffice a daily wage reward.  “Electric fencing couldn’t protect our fields from the giants and there is no budget for the maintenance. There is threat to human life and I think I should stop paddy cultivation or switch over to beetlenut plantation instead,” Dirglal Acharya said.

Another local resident reported that the elephants infiltrated the villages around at night, having launched their incursions three days earlier. “The elephants returned to their habitat the following morning after feasting on and damaging our paddy crops, leaving our plantations in ruins,” he shared.

Local residents attempted various methods, including beating drums, lighting fires, and setting off fireworks to deter the wild elephants. “We remained vigilant in our farmlands throughout the night to protect our paddy from these wild elephants. Herds of elephants are not easily frightened away. They only retreat to the national park once they are satiated,” explained Laxuman Chamlagai.

Another paddy farmer said that they had called upon the national park to address the issue as wild elephants began destroying the paddy. “We have repeatedly requested that the villages be fenced with electric barbed wire to control the entry of wild animals, but our pleas remain unanswered,” the farmer lamented.

Meanwhile, forest officials are inspecting the area where the wild elephants wreaked havoc on the paddy fields. The department has also dedicated a range officer in the area. During the patrolling visit, locals implored them to take necessary actions to manage the wild elephant issue.

However, the officials said that there is neither any separate funds allocated from the ministry’s budget to proceed with fencing the villages using barbed wire, nor is there a policy to compensate for the crop loss.

“We feel sorry and guilty to talk with the farmers,” a forest official said, adding that it is not fair when humans are killed by the jumbo. Occasionally, officials shared that they have to console farmers from their personal pockets.

While the herd of elephants destroyed crops, fruit trees, vegetables and areca nut trees, Chuzergang Gup, Karma Tshering said that the farmers are suffering and gewog too is helpless.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu