Carcass of 12-year-old Tusker found in Mao Khola, Gelephu

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Gelephu, Sarpang see more numbers of wild elephants and intensifying human-elephant conflict this year
The carcass of 12-years-old small tusker was found in Mao Khola last Friday, on August 26.
A cowboy from Chhuzergang Gewog in Gelephu reported the sighting of the carcass in the river. Officer In-Charge with Gelephu range office, Labchu Tshering and his team recovered the body from the river and buried it at the site.
It was a lone elephant straying by the river areas when it died of a mysterious death.
“There seems no foul play with the death of the elephant. We didn’t see any visible physical injury on its body,” said the range officer.
“The elephant must have died early in the morning of the same day. We traced its fresh footprint nearby.” Added Lhapchu Tshering.
The rumor that the foresters finally listened to some traumatized residents of Gelephu and shot the 12-year-old elephant dead is the talk of the town.
However, denying the speculations, Lhapchu Tshering cleared the doubt. He said, “People suspect that we shot the tusker. But it’s not true. As a range official, our duty is to protect the elephants.”

The magnificent tuskers tread the southern foothills over the border of Bhutan and India. Gelephu is a part of ‘Haati Sar’, the ancient habitat range of wild elephants.
Moreover, the Asian elephants found in the southern foothills of the country are classified and red listed as an endangered species under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Bhutan protects elephants under schedule I of forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan 1995. And the second national elephant survey conducted in 2018 recorded 678 elephants treading in wild.
Moreover, it has become a visible challenge for the foresters to practice conservation efforts as human-elephant conflict has intensified this year. The quick response team (QRT) in Gelephu and Sarpang stated that they remain alert day in and night out, divided in two groups with five people each.
“We respond to people’s call even during odd hours. That’s all we can do, help them chase elephants away from human settlement using fire crackes and other response technology,” said the range officials.
Divisional Forest Office in Sarpang has also installed electric fencing and virtual fencing to reduce elephant-human conflict. They also use virtual fence known as ANIDERS (Animal Intrusion Detection and Ranging Sensor). The use of thermal night vision and thermal drones also help the foresters locate and chase away the wild elephants.
The intensifying human-elephant coexistence in Gelephu, left many people split minded. On one hand they want the Thromde administration, local leaders and the range officials to shoot down the elephants as they terrorize the residential areas.
“It seems like the higher authorities care for elephant’s life more than the people’s,” said an agitated resident.
In last two months Gelephu lost laymen to an aggressive herd of elephant. One man gravely injured when the tusker attacked him from the back as the man walked to alert his neighbors in Jigmeling. Another man just recovered from the elephant injury.
The wild tuskers reportedly raid crops such as paddy, bananas areca nut trees and others. On addition, the tuskers caused property damages like trampling on vehicles, destroying washrooms, causing menace in the backyard and more.
However, elephants are symbolically connected to religious and cultural sentiments, thus many wants better solution in place like compensation for lost life, crops and properties.
“Elephants ruled the borders known as Hathi Sar; people started settling in their homeland. Maybe they are here to reclaim their ancestral home and we really don’t think killing is the best solution,” said another resident of Gelephu.
According to the foresters, it is more dangerous for the people if they encounter a lone elephant on their way. “Lone elephants are more aggressive and agitated, trying to find it’s way back to its herd. On seeing people, they act out,” said the foresters.
Herds of wild elephants sneak out from the thick forests by twilight to forage for food in the nearby villages. And it heads back to the forests as the day breaks. “Hence, people should avoid going for a walk during such hours for their safety,” reminded Lhapchu Tshering.
The chances of retaliation are inevitable for all the terrors caused by the tuskers so far. There are some groups of people in the southern foothills holding resentments against the wild elephants. They openly call the forest officials to take down the mega-herbivore out of frustration.
Herds of elephants are also sighted blocking the highway between Gelephu and Sarpang. “If you run into a herd of elephants during odd hours, let them pass first rather than confronting them,” reminded the people travelling through highway.
Some residents in Gelephu claimed that people killed an elephant in the past for creating nuisance. However, there’s no official report with the range office.
Elephants normally migrate during seasons between India and Bhutan. According the forest officials, more numbers are sighted this year in Gelephu.
Lhapchu Tshering said,“One reason could be that the illegal poachers across the borders would hunt them down for Ivory. Thus, finding safe hideout in the forest in Bhutan.”
The poachers across the border use a locally made riffle called ‘Khando’ to shoot the bulls for their tusks and the herds to chase them away from their settlement areas.
“Poachers consider elephants with trunk a delicacy and make fortunes selling it off,” said an official.
Wild elephants are left out there as they lose their habitat to rapid urbanization and human settlement. The range official said that the Indian neighbors cleared most of their land. Hence more wild elephants are seen straying in Bhutanese land mark.
Earlier, not many elephants were seen in Gelephu like recent times. Most of them were seen in Manas and Phipsoo park.
“The park rangers in Manas and Phibsoo also noted that the numbers of wild elephants roaming in the park has decreased. This time, most of them must have visited Gelephu and Sarpang. Thus, increased conflict here,” said the range office in-charge.
More than a hundred elephants in a herd was spotted by local people at Thewarkhola , Chuzergang Gewog two months ago.
The local leaders and forest officials also conducted a meeting with the people. “We  request people to clear their land or else the Gewog will not accept land tax. Because elephants hide in the bushes and we can’t see them while chasing them away. That’s when the risk doubles when the tuskers suddenly appear,” said Lhapchu Tshering, the range in-charge officer.
Usually, wild elephants in Phibsoo migrate to Gelephu through their ancient usual route and leave for Manas. “I think availability of food, made them stay back,” said Lhapchu.
If people kill elephant in self-defense or resentment, they will be fined Nu 15,000. If they kill tuskers for their tusk and caught, said the ranger, “If missing the tusk from the tuskers, the person will have to pay Nu 100,000 for each tusk.”