Is all the deforestation worth it?

By Urszula Rodakowska

In recent years, conflict between small scale tea plantations and elephants in the Northeast state of India- Assam has exacerbated, and the primary reason behind it, is a decline of forest cover in this area. Assam, a place which has the highest number of wild elephants in India, has witnessed hundreds of human–elephant conflicts. With the rise of inhabitants, forest land has been cleared for tea plantations, destroying wildlife habitats and blocking migration routes. Twenty-three districts of Assam count 56,000 registered small tea growers with the same number of non-registered ones, according to the locals. Officials blame tea gardens for contributing to state’s deforestation. As elephants don’t eat tea leaves, they are forced to seek for a food and water in other places. Unable to find enough resources to sustain in their old habitats, they decide to venture out close to human villages, where farms and property are being damaged and people are being attacked. Residents describe their life there, as very dangerous because of the fear of being trampled to death. Between 2006 and 2016 almost 800 people were killed by wild elephants in Assam. It is evident that there is a lack of awareness on how to deal with these situations. Accidents of this category mostly occur during the dry season when the animals move out of their habitat in search of food and water. This is a clash with no winners on both sides. According to conservationists, elephants are becoming more aggressive in Assam because their habitats are shrinking and even their natural corridor are being encroached upon. This battle leads to loss of their lives as well. India’s surrounding ministry states that 72 elephants had been killed between 2013 and 2014, with greater than 100 killed in 2012. Poaching, rushing trains, poisoning, electrocution are only few reasons of mammals death reported by conservation organisations. To prevent killings of elephants, the forest department increased patrolling along the 29 elephant corridors near railway tracks and set up anti depredation squads. Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal is also concerned about the recent rise in number of their deaths. As India accounts for nearly 60% of Asian elephants, their death becomes a grave problem. Forests which were the sheltering places and took over one third of Assam’s area, turned into tea gardens illegally planted by many small growers. The India Tea Association (which represents most of big tea firms in Assam), reject that accusation of denuding forests, cutting down trees and planting tea. As “forest coverage is in its members’ interest”.

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