Trampled Out

Elephants pay locals in Assam’s south Kamrup unwanted surprise visits

A poster put up by the Loharghat forest office in Kamrup district, in Assam, cautioning commuters that the road is frequently used by wild elephants. The depleting lands and food sources in existing forests in Kamrup's Rani region have contributed to the animals moving towards neighbouring areas with dense human settlements. Paloma Bhattacharjee
31 August, 2023

Paresh Nath, an inhabitant of Nilepara village in Assam, told me on 27 February about the path three elephants took, two nights earlier, through a lane flanked by closely packed houses. “Since 2022, elephants have been roaming around here, and are still here to have Bihu with us,” Nath said, wryly. But “the elders of Rangamati will tell you that they have never seen an elephant come here before.” Residents of Rangamati—a cluster of villages in the southern part of the Kamrup district in the Lower Assam division—do not welcome these visits, as the elephants cause significant economic damages. But they seem to have no means to reduce the presence of wild elephants in the area, which has only intensified in recent months.

In the last few years, the elephants began descending to Rangamati and the neighbouring areas of Bijoynagar and the town of Mirza, which are important business centres in the district, from the nearby region of Rani, close to the Assam–Meghalaya border. Rani adjoins the Garbhanga Wildlife Sanctuary—formerly Garbhanga and Rani Reserve Forest—which was reportedly home to about two hundred elephants as of February 2022.

The elephants are known to travel north-westwards through the paddy fields, primarily during the harvesting season, according to the locals. They feed on the paddy in those areas before returning to Rani. However, two years ago, a few elephants decided to stay back in a small reserve forest next to Mirza, called the Maliata forest—locally known as Mirza hill—and did not return. According to locals, the numbers have grown from three to seven or eleven, including a calf.

“Two or three days ago in Mirza Tiniali”—a prominent junction—“they walked through the middle of the crowded bazaar road,” Pankaj Lochan Goswami, from Rangamati, told me. “The elephant group has made this their area now. They break the walls and move around. The walls are not walls for them; for them they are hurdles.” Some do not repair the walls as they know the elephants will come and destroy them again.