Living with the beauty and the terror

SM Anwar Hossain Palash
Wednesday, April 19th, 2017


 

It was almost 6pm. The time when the picture below was taken, was one of the most exciting moments in my life. There was only a stream flowing between those giant beauties and me.

 

I have never imagined having a look at them from such a close distance. I just got back to our room from a distant village where I went to collect data for my thesis work. We called off the day earlier at around 3pm, as it had been raining all the day long. It was getting hard to get people willing to be interviewed.

 

It all paid off when we heard that elephants were roaming in the forest. Like the villagers, we were rushing madly, though it was the second time for us to watch them. The first time was not as exciting as we just had a glimpse of them from a very long distance.

 

Those beautiful creatures were foraging and specifically went to that area to have some water from that very stream. People were watching them without causing any disturbance. Suddenly someone started throwing stones just out of fun. Then others joined them throwing stones too. It was a form of sport for these people who are probably deprived of any form of entertainment.

 

It was not entirely a form of revenge for what the elephants do, like damaging crops. They were mocking those elephants too, though they knew that they were going to be chased soon. The visitor, who came to Gajni Obokash, an amusement park very close to the place, also joined villagers in throwing stones. This was a very unpleasant scene for anyone who cares about animals. How many times you forbade them doesn’t matter. Any plea to stop this nonsense won’t work.

 

Meanwhile, the matriarch got angry and started charging small trees to frighten people as you can see in the second picture, as they needed to drink water. It was impossible for them to do it with human beings throwing stones like rain drops. So, the matriarch led the herd to charge people down. Everyone left the place at once. These are gentle animals, as long as you are gentle with them. They are also intelligent enough as they have been in touch with human beings for centuries. They are more intelligent than African elephants.

 

It was getting dark already. So, I came back to our room where I was staying as a paying guest with the local people in a house with a mud wall. The night fell, and it was raining heavily. The scenario reversed with no electricity and any weapon to defend. This beauty turned into a terrifying image. There were no crops to raid except banana plants, jackfruit trees and bamboo.

 

But you can’t let them near your house, as there is every possibility of casualties. There were almost 30 households in that patch of residence surrounded by forest. All the people living there are Muslim. The nearest patch of residential area was about 500m to the south where ethnic people of Koch tribe live, who follow the Hindu religion.

 

The houses of the Garo and Koch tribes are more vulnerable to the elephant attack as they keep rice beer to drink, and elephants love rice beer.

 

Normally the people from nearby area comes to help others when elephants try to come closer to their house, and not all the people are brave enough to be in the front line to drive elephants away. As it was raining cats and dogs, it became difficult for those villagers to drive the elephants away.

 

In a rainy weather, it costs almost twice the amount of oil than a normal night to light a fire torch. As there is no electricity in that area and people know that the situation won’t change anytime soon, they want the government to subsidize the oil price and provide them with oil at a cheaper rate. This could possibly make a change in the conflicting situation.

 

They also use tin sheets to make sounds, handmade gun to scare elephants by producing a loud sound similar to a gunshot. Years of the conflicting situation has made elephants capable enough to get used to the tools. The elephants also try to scare people, and it works mostly. Each time I saw these herds, there was more than one calf in those herds.

 

It makes the herd more sensitive to human activities. The local people believe that it is entirely upon the will of elephants whether they will leave or not when it is a herd of thirty plus elephants.

 

For that night, elephants left after about 20 minutes. But, they could have stayed longer. They also calculate the cost and benefit of the conflicting situation. No one can feel the impact of that 20 minutes time sitting in an urban area.

 

I was terrified. I was thinking, how crazy those nights become for the people when elephants stay all the night long for more than five hours. If it was not for the elephants, I would be more afraid of ghosts in a forest like that with a very few people around.

 

I never imagined in my dreams that these magnificent creatures could be so terrifying. I have seen elephant herds no less than five times, but that night will never be forgotten. I have stayed there for more than 50 days starting from May 2016.

 

It won’t be possible without the help and guidance of my supervisor Prof. Dr Md. Anwarul Islam and WildTeam.

 

Today (13.04.2017), I got back from Gajni, Sherpur. This is the first time I was not scared that much as I was after that night. This very first time I was not afraid to go out to use the toilet alone at a distance from the house. There are several reasons behind this, but the most important one is the bio-fencing and solar fencing program of Forest Department has provided a better security to those areas for now.

 

There are many stories to be told that can’t be shared in this piece of writing, stories which have shaped the belief of the local people for last 20 years about elephants. We can always be hopeful. Hope keeps us alive when the situation is not in our favour. I hope for a better future of our people and the mighty giants, the only animal, who have no true predator in the wild.

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