Efforts to keep wild elephants off human settlements in Assam are riding on a flash of hope - light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs blinking to a rhythmic pattern.
Five solar-powered LEDs, each 250 metres apart, were installed at five different locations in the Nayapara and Hastinapur areas of western Assam’s Baksa district on October 14 to prevent elephants from foraging crop fields and getting close to human settlements.
Members of Aaranyak, a biodiversity conservation organisation, surveyed the area to understand the elephant movements and identify the strategic locations for installing the 2-watt LED bulbs.
“These LED bulbs illuminate a particular area in a rhythmic sequence, blinking continuously in the darkness around. The movement of elephants around human settlements can be restricted as the trunked animals are known to avoid these lights,” Anjan Barua of Aaranyak’s Human Elephant Coexistence Initiative said.
“Through this initiative, some 1,500 households are expected to be benefitted,” he said.
Installing LED bulbs is one of the three strategies being employed in Assam to mitigate human-elephant conflict (HEC) and facilitate coexistence in the Baksa and Tamulpur districts. The initiatives have been supported by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the SBI Foundation.
On October 6, Aaranyak motivated about 40 farmers of Sesapani village in Tamulpur district to shift from conventional paddy to commercially viable crops that wild elephants find less palatable. Some of these alternative crops can be used as bio-fences to deter elephant herds besides supplementing the income of HEC-affected people, experts on elephant behaviour said. “Crops such as Assam lemon, ginger, turmeric, and mustard are less likely to be foraged by elephants. These crops also command good prices in the market,” Bhanita Baruah, the agriculture development officer of Tamulpur district’s Kumarikata Circle said.
“Our focus is also on sensitising the farmers about the importance of crop quality and variety, seed treatment, land preparation, nutrient management, sowing methods, disease control, and the economic advantages associated with these crops,” she said.
A total of 100 kg of mustard seeds were distributed among 35 farmers of Sesapani and six other villages in the adjoining Udalguri district who were keen on cultivating it to keep elephants away.
The third initiative has been the construction of six permanent watchtowers in HEC-affected areas of the Baksa district to facilitate community crop guarding for raising an alarm when elephants approach paddy fields.
“Community crop-guarding has been found to be effective and has been tried and tested in other areas of the landscape,” Mr. Barua said.
Assam is home to more than 5,700 elephants, the second-highest after Karnataka. According to data provided in the 126-member State Assembly in March, HECs kill an average of 70 people and 80 elephants annually.
The data also revealed that 1,300 elephants died between 2001 and 2022. While 509 of these died of natural causes, 261 succumbed to unknown reasons, 202 were electrocuted, 102 died in train accidents, 65 due to poisoning, 40 were poached, and 18 died in a bolt of lightning.