Amla (Phyllanthus emblica) and bel (Aegle marmelos) are among several native species of trees that are being planted in Assam in a bid to secure a major elephant habitat and mitigate conflicts between humans and tuskers.
Among the 25,000 saplings of native species of trees planted between June and August in an effort to improve the 100-hectare elephant habitat are some 2,000 sprouts of Alpinia allughus, a ginger-like rhizome locally called ‘tora’. It is an important source of fodder for elephants in the region.
The habitat is in the Rowta Reserve Forest under the Dhansiri Forest Division in the Udalguri district of Assam, bordering Bhutan.
Other species of trees planted include gamhari (Gmelina arborea), jamun (Syzygium cumini), bhumura (Terminalia bellirica), arjun (Terminalia arjuna), outenga or elephant apple (Dillenia indica), and khair (Acacia catechu).
The selection of these species was done after a study of the native forest cover and most of these plants are important for the elephants’ diet, according to a spokesperson for Aaranyak, an Assam-based biodiversity conservation organisation.
“Restoring degraded areas with tree species preferred by the elephants would help secure its habitat and facilitate elephant movement for long-term mitigation of human-elephant confrontation,” Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar, the organisation’s senior conservation scientist, said.
According to a report released by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change a few months ago, 561 people were killed in human-elephant conflicts in Assam between 2014 and 2022. Several elephants also died during this period, many of which were electrocuted or poisoned.
The area chosen for the replenishment of the green cover in the Rowta area is a mosaic of grasslands and woodlands, with different soil substrata ranging from sandy coarse to rocky and swampy swathes of land.
“We planted more than 25,000 saplings after surveying the plantation in the nearby forest patches that are still intact, to make informed decisions on what native species to plant,” conservation biologist Alokika Sinha said.
The 61st Battalion of the Sashastra Seema Bal, personnel of the Dhansiri Forest Division, and members of the Dhansiri-Sikaridanga Joint Forest Management Committee at Rowta collaborated with Aaranyak for the plantation drive.
Earlier, Aaranyak and the British Asian Trust (with support from Darwin Institute, Meghalaya Forest Department and the Tikrikilla Block Development Office) provided training in poultry farming to people across 58 villages in the Garo Hills region, who have been affected by conflicts with elephants. About 60% of the trainees were women.
“Availability of alternative livelihood options is a powerful tool to facilitate human-elephant coexistence in a conflict zone,” said Surajit Hajong, a veterinary doctor who trained the villagers.