Assam: ECN for the community by the community to help HEC mitigation

Once warned of wild elephants’ presence in advance, the villagers can take steps in time to save their lives and minimise damage to their crops and property.

GUWAHATI-  Having an early warning mechanism about approaching wild elephants in a hotspot of human-elephant conflict (HEC) can go a long way in saving lives of both human beings and wild elephants. Once warned of wild elephants’ presence in advance, the villagers can take steps in time to save their lives and minimise damage to their crops and property.

Premier biodiversity conservation and research organisation based in Northeast India, Aaranyak which works with a multi-pronged approach ranging from conducting research, outreach, capacity building and reversing habitat degradation for mitigation of HEC, has undertaken a novel approach through formation of a network of local communities called Elephant Conservation Network (ECN) in HEC hotspots.

The ECNs’ basic objective is to facilitate an “Early Warning System” comprising local villagers who will monitor elephant movement in their vicinity and shall send out alarms to the villagers, alerting them on elephant presence.

Aaranyak initially floated this idea on ECN in the villages where it is working to promote human-elephant coexistence. As the villagers were keen to form such groups and based on their interest and engagement we formed seven ECN groups so far in the districts of Goalpara, Baksa and Udalguri in Assam wherein around 130 people are involved.

Teams from Aaranyak conduct formal workshops and informal discussion to build capacity of the ECN members. They are taught about elephant ecology and behaviour, effective mitigation measures that will help them manage conflict in their areas and facilitate coexistence.

The respective ECN members are connected through WhatsApp group, wherein they share information about elephant presence. Besides, ECN members help us in distribution of mitigation tools, such as rechargeable spotlights to the affected villagers, monitoring and recording HEC incidents in the villages.

“The ECN groups have substantially contributed in raising alarms and improved monitoring, and rekindled engagement of local communities in mitigating HEC. We provide in-kind support to these ECN members and their families, who are also the HEC-affected people with alternative crops that are less attractive to elephants to reduce crop damage and supplement their livelihoods, kits for their morale boosting etc.  We believe that ECN can make a tangible difference to ease surging HEC incidents,” said Dr Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar, a senior conservation scientist in Aaranyak.

Human-elephant conflict poses serious threats to elephants as well as human well-being. The state of Assam in northeast India is a stronghold of Asian elephant population and also a hotspot of HEC. The intensity and frequency of HEC incidents have increased over the time, which is affecting the lives and livelihoods of people, and undermining elephant conservation. It is well reflected in the alarming figure of about 800 human beings and about 500 wild elephants getting killed during 2011-2021 in Assam. Eighty-two wild elephants died as a result of HEC in Assam in the year 2022.


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