On April 30, a wild elephant walked right into the heart of Guwahati city on busy a road lined up with luxury shopping malls and retail stores on both sides. The animal stalled the traffic on the GS Road for an hour. As forest officials and police personnel tried to chase it away, a crowd of enthusiastic netizens started stalking the jumbo and shooting videos to post them on social media.
Soon, the videos went viral.
In one of the videos, the elephant was seen walking gracefully and unaffected by the cars and the cacophony around him without causing any damage to lives and property. On the contrary, it was a section of the media and onlookers that went ‘wild’ with the news and started reporting that “Wild elephant creates menace on streets of Guwahati”. Some others were more logical and said, “Wild elephant walks down Guwahati road, stalls traffic”; “Wild elephant stalls traffic in Guwahati, creates panic among residents”.
Where did it come from?
The elephant had walked all the way from Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary on the outskirts of Guwahati. Forest officials who later tranquillised it said it had walked into the city in search of food.
According to reports, it walked over 25 km up from Amchang to the Congress headquarters Rajiv Bhavan where forest and zoo officials along with the police tried to goad it towards the zoo nearby or back to the sanctuary. The animal was also seen walking around Ganeshguri and Hengrabari areas of the city.
Officials tranquilised the animal to get it off the streets. Assam forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya later told the media that it took some time to get the elephant off-the road and “thankfully the elephant was not injured”. He also informed that it will be returned to the wild after necessary treatment.
— Rathin Barman (@rathinbarman) April 30, 2019
Who created the panic?
“It was big and burly. It was quite a sight to watch it navigate its way through the busy road. But there was actually no panic since the elephant was roaming around quietly. It looked lost and was trying to find its way back,” says 23-year-old Ritwick, who spotted the elephant at Ganeshguri.
“The videos posted on social media show clearly that it was not the elephant that was wild but the human beings around him. Everybody started stalking him, some for selfies, some for videos, some to chase him away so that there isn’t any damage to lives and property. It’s sad what we have done to our forest cover and wildlife,” lamented Meenaxi Boruah, a Guwahati resident who came to know about the incident through a WhatsApp message.
Many other concerned citizens took to social media.
— Anupam Bordoloi (@asomputra) April 30, 2019
Animal rights activists have been raising the issue of man-animal conflict in and around Amchang sanctuary for a long time now. Such confrontations have of late become commonplace throughout the year.
“With human population pushing more and more inside forest covers, incidents of wild animals straying into cities have been increasingly reported. This is a direct result of deforestation and as animals are left with very limited resources,” says Pranjal Das, a wildlife enthusiast.
Amchang has an estimated elephant population of more than 50. The wild elephants are often seen frequenting the Narengi military cantonment, which was earlier part of their habitat. Back in 2003, the Army had put in place a barrier of iron spikes at the cantonment to keep the wild elephants at bay. This, conservationists claim, proved to be death trap for the elephants. The issue gathered momentum last year after the carcass of a 9-10 year male elephant was found near a stream around Amchang. Forest officials flagged that the bed of iron spikes at the cantonment may have been the reason for the elephant’s death and demanded immediate removal of the spiked barrier.
“The carcass was found close to the cantonment and the nature of the injury shows that the wound was caused by the spikes,” Divisional Forest Officer Pradipta Baruah had said at the time. In March, the Army finally began removing rows of sharp iron spikes.
Assam is home to nearly 6,000 wild elephants. While hundreds of elephants have been killed across the state in the last decade, more than 1,000 people have succumbed to death as a result of direct confrontation with the wild elephants during the same period. Most of the elephants died after being hit by running trains. Other reasons include bullet wounds, poisoning, septicemia (as result of wounds from sharp-blade fences) as well as electrocution.