JORHAT, Jan 6: Another elephant festival– the eighth– to be precise at the Kaziranga National Park has ended with much fanfare and lakh spent but the main objective in holding the festivals in the first place can be said to be a total failure.
The elephant festivals were started with the sole motive of increasing awareness in conservation of these mammoth beasts but in recent times it can be said that the man-elephant conflict has achieved mammoth proportions– with man at the receiving end– with little sympathy being generated for these animals.
In fact the elephant festivals while spending lakh of rupees for holding the event can be said to have done nothing more than help a number of self-help groups sell their wares at exorbitant prices to unsuspecting tourists and promote food melas.
If sources are to be believed the villages adjacent to the park who have continuously faced wild elephant depredations especially during harvest time are ready to get rid of these animals at any cost.
“At one time spotting the wild elephants was supposed to be auspicious and we bowed our heads and folded our hands in prayers but now whenever we see one of these beasts we consider it to be an ominous sign and prepare ourselves to drive away the herd which we know will soon appear to destroy all the crop in our fields,” a villager said.
While the government spends lakh– this year Rs 15 lakh was spent and another Rs 10 lakh sanctioned for a hall– neither does man nor beast benefit from this expenditure.
The real task of increasing the habitat of elephants, which has alarmingly depleted, should be the first task of the government.
Sources said that Golaghat district had in records 10,37,987 hectare of forest land but this has been largely encroached by tea gardens, stone quarrying and placing of stone quarrying machines which have disturbed the elephant corridors like nothing else.
Moreover, a huge area– 1,250 acres– which served as habitat has been taken up by the Numaligarh Refinery– thus further hampering elephant movement.
While 134 hectare of forest has been demarcated at Deopahar for Project Elephant the reality is that shops and other tourist facilities have sprung up near it, thus creating a disturbance with noise and bright lights for the elephants.
Wild elephants from these areas have come out and are ravaging fields and doing the rounds of districts in search of food. In the process many of them have faced human ire and many more mowed down by trains.
If the government is serious about elephant conservation efforts it should first ensure against encroachment by humans and take steps to increase forest cover instead of spending large sums on elephant festivals which religiously includes a talk, seminar, discussion and lecture on reducing man-elephant conflict.
The elephant festival has done nothing but draw tourists to the park. THE SENTINEL