GUWAHATI: Just when the prolonged ethnic violence between Bodos and Bengali-speaking Muslims in the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) - an administrative set up under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution - which left nearly 100 people dead and over four lakh displaced between July and September this year is beginning to ebb, Assam has been caught up in the throes of another conflict, albeit of a different kind.
This time, the conflict in Assam is between man and elephant, and has taken an almost vicious turn at the peak of the paddy harvesting season. On December 19, four people were trampled to death by wild elephants - three in Krishnai area of Goalpara district and one in Hojai area of Nagaon district. Also, more than 100 houses were damaged by elephants in Mariani area of Jorhat district.
At least 70 people and not less than 10 elephants have been killed so far in confrontations in different parts of the state. The elephant casualties took place in a short duration spanning November-December, the crucial paddy harvesting time in the state.
Villagers on the fringes of Khalingduar Reserve Forest and Bornodi Wildlife Sanctuary along the India-Bhutan border in BTAD's Udalguri district, about 170km from Guwahati, are spending sleepless nights. With a large herd of wild elephants from Bhutan crossing over to raid croplands in the plains almost every day since November, the locals are in a confrontational mode. Five people were trampled to death when they attempted to chase the herd and four jumbos were killed in the past two months.
"This being a dry season, there is a scarcity of food in the jungles. So, jumbos are raiding croplands as an easy source of food. This has resulted in man-animal conflict intensifying in the border areas," said Ananta Bagh, a conservation volunteer at Nonaipara area in Udalguri.
Last week, a 60-strong herd entered Paneri area of district, and it took the forest department and local people three days to drive the herd away.
"We've had some respite for the last four days. Otherwise, jumbos were entering human settlements and raiding crops every day. We have deployed three teams in three conflict-prone areas for rapid response in chasing away elephants. Four trained elephants have also been pressed into service to assist in driving away wild jumbos," divisional forest officer of Dhansiri wildlife division, Bankim Sarma said.
Sarma said the biggest problem in chasing away elephant herds is human mobs. "Most human casualties are due to mob action and driving away elephants in an unorganized manner," he added.
The conflict is not confined to places in the BTAD. Almost 11 out of 27 districts in the state are in the grips of human-elephant conflict. "We are trying both short and long-term measures to mitigate human-elephant conflict. But, unfortunately, the conflict persists. We have planned to cover more areas under solar-powered electric fencing to prevent elephants from entering villages. As a short-term measure, we have asked our department personnel to intensify patrolling and are using trained elephants to chase away wild herds. Recently, there was a meeting in New Delhi of the chief wildlife wardens of all elephant-bearing states where conflict mitigation measures were discussed," Assam chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand said.
Assam has an estimated 5,620 wild elephants, according to the forest department. Destruction of their habitats with the expansion of agricultural land, development projects and encroachment of forest land has aggravated the conflict. The forest along the India-Bhutan border and Sonitpur district bordering Arunachal Pradesh have seen large-scale destruction, primarily due to the expanding tea cultivations and encroachment by humans.
NAVI MUMBAI: A Juinagar resident and animal lover, Rama Katarnavare (46), lodged a complaint against a rash school bus driver on Thursday night at the Nerul police station for fatally running over a stray dog in her locality.
While the police registered the FIR against the driver, Surendra Kondvilkar, under IPC Section 279 (rash driving) and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960), he has not yet been arrested.
Katarnavare told TOI that she had requested Kondvilkar to drive slowly inside the railway colony in Sector 22. "However, he never heeded my pleas. On Thursday, Kondvilkar was again speeding inside the colony and ran over a stray dog. I immediately informed the cops, who conducted a panchnama at the spot," said Katarnavare. Her son, Amit, said the accused did not show remorse even at the police station. Meanwhile, veterinarian Dr Pradeep Londe of the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation said, "We were informed about the dog's death on Thursday itself and have taken its body."
After promoting the cause of stray and abandoned animals, Mumbai is now gearing up to fight for the rights of circus animals across the country.
Members of an animal rights organisation protested outside a circus camp in Bandra on Friday. The protesters, chained and wearing masks of elephants, held signs that read, 'Abolish Slavery: Ban Animal Circuses'. According to the animal rights activists, all circus animals are treated like slaves. "Slavery of animals is akin to slavery of humans," says campaigner Abhishek Mudaliar, adding, "Animals in circuses across India are routinely chained and beaten. They are subjected to chronic confinement, physical abuse and psychological torment. Whips and other weapons like heavy steel-tipped rods are often used to inflict pain and beat them into submission. Animals and birds perform confusing, unnatural tricks â€” for example, parrots riding bicycles, standing on their heads or jumping through rings of fire.
They don't do it because they want to, but out of fear of violent punishment. It's high time the government banned the archaic use of animals in circuses. We're appealing to parents whose kids love animals to steer clear of circuses that use animals."
The central government has already banned the use of bears, monkeys, tigers, panthers, lions and bulls in performances. "We are calling on the Government of India to follow the lead ofBolivia and Greece, which have banned the use of all animals. Why must we have dogs or parrots in our circuses?" Abhishek added. Bollywood also feels strongly about the case. Here's what some of the stars said.
B-town's 'pet' cause:
Celina Jaitly:Circus animals are kept in horrendous conditions. Dogs are crammed into dirty cages and hardly ever let out. Birds are locked inside cramped cages, and their wings are clipped so that they cannot fly. They pay a heavy price for a fleeting moment of human amusement. Nature has enough for man's needs, not his greed. If you want to see animals perform, watch them at their best in a nature documentary.
Rahul Khanna: Most children naturally love animals and would never knowingly support anything that involve treating them cruelly. Circuses can and do exist only because of willing human adults.
Raveena Tandon Thadani: Animals in circuses lead a life of endless confinement, constant physical abuse and psychological torment. Animals are not natural performers like us. We are the entertainers, not them. They belong in their natural homes, not suffering under the Big Top.
NEW DELHI — The sight of poorly fed and badly treated bears being forced to dance on the streets of India is a thing of the past as a campaign to wipe out the practice has finally borne fruit, activists say.
The tradition of forcing sloth bears to dance for entertainment dates back to the 13th century, when trainers belonging to the Muslim Kalandar tribe enjoyed royal patronage and performed before the rich and powerful.
Descendants of the tribe from central India had kept the tradition alive, buying bear cubs from poachers for about 1,200 rupees ($22) and then hammering a heated iron rod through their sensitive snouts.
After removing the animal's teeth and claws, the bear trainer threaded a rope through its snout and then headed for the streets where onlookers would pay a few rupees for a show in which the bear would sway and jump around.
"It's taken us many years but all the tribesmen we keep track of have moved on to different livelihoods," Vivek Menon from the non-profit Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), told AFP on the sidelines of a bear conference in New Delhi last week.
"The tradition might still be present in people's minds, of course, but we don't know of any cases where Kalandars are still practising it."
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and India-based Wildlife SOS, which runs sanctuaries for bears, have also declared an end to the practice in the last few months -- 40 years after a government ban in 1972.
The key, say the donation-funded groups, has been bringing the Kalandars on board, providing them with money and incentives to re-train in other professions.
The success points the way for other campaigns, such as the one to rid India of its snake charmers who can still be spotted illegally plying their trade, often with the snakes' mouths sewn shut.
"It was very difficult to convince the bear trainers to give up their work. Most of them were very scared, they have never known any other way of life but this," WSPA campaign coordinator Aniruddha Mookerjee told AFP.
One of the owners to give up was Mohammed Afsar Khan, a 30-year-old father of three girls who used to work with his father and brother travelling across central India with three bears in tow.
He says he used to earn about 300 rupees a day until he gave up the job six years ago.
"It's a hard life. You can never settle in one place, your children can't go to school, you end up feeling trapped. Then you are always worried about police harassing you for bribes," he said.
He handed over his bears to Wildlife Trust of India officers, who offered his family financial assistance and helped him and his younger brother learn driving skills.
He used the funds to rent a tractor and ferry bricks from kilns to construction sites in Chhattisgarh state. Today, he owns his tractor and earns about 500 rupees a day.
The bears recovered by the animal groups were often in a wretched state, suffering from infected snouts, root canal problems, even diseases such as tuberculosis which they contracted from humans.
The sloth bears also suffer from malnutrition after being fed bread, lentils and milk for years, leading to an extremely reduced life span.
Menon from WTI say that the dancing bear industry was also "a dominant cause behind the disappearance of the sloth bear" -- a focus at the bear conference which focused on conservation and welfare.
In the last three decades, the number of sloth bears -- a species native to South Asia -- has fallen by at least 30 percent, according to the IUCN-SSC Bear Specialist Group (BSG). There are now less than 20,000 of them.
"The widespread poaching of bear cubs and the killing of mother bears clearly affects the population of the species," Menon told AFP.
"India is changing rapidly and this is an outmoded, inhumane tradition. The trainers themselves realise now that it is far easier for them to earn a living doing other jobs," Menon said.
Aziz Khan is another former bear-owner who never expected to leave his ancestral trade but was happy for the way out offered by WTI when officers approached him and his friends more than a decade ago.
"I didn't earn much, but I was afraid to leave it. I didn't know how else I would be able to feed my three kids," the 45-year-old told AFP.
WTI helped retrain Aziz Khan and his friends as bakers. They now run their own bakery, producing 350 loaves of bread each day.
"I have no regrets today, it was a dead-end job and I am glad I was able to move on," he said.