A wall to keep elephants at bay ends up alienating people in an Uttarakhand village
MANY TECHNIQUES have been employed by people and governments to keep wild elephants out of human settlements, or at least to reduce their visitation rates. Fire-crackers and bonfires, electric fences, cultivation of tobacco and red chilies and deep trenches have been tried so far. For the first time, an ‘elephant-proof ’ wall has been constructed to mitigate conflict with the large herbivores.We were in Chorgalia,a picturesque region in the Himalayan foothills, 20 km from Haldwani,Uttarakhand,to learn about the wall constructed by residents of the hamlet in late 2013. The village residents grapple with problems of crop-raiding by elephants and other wildlife,as Chorgalia is located on the edge of thick sal forests,now in- cluded in the Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary.
The one-kilometre wall,built with stone and cement, is over 2.4 m tall and about 0.5 m thick, running along the eastern edge of Chorgalia abutting the forest.A jagged steel strip with a razor-sharp toothed edge was embedded along the top portion along the length of the wall. A narrow staircase was provided every 500 m along the wall to enable human movement. The wall looked robust and cost ` 40 lakh. Since the funds had run out mid-way,the wall could not be completed and encloses only a part of the village. Forest department officials believe the wall is the most effective mitigation method used so far in Uttarakhand.
So what’s in a wall, one would ask? And has it attained its objective? We conducted a survey among local village residents.We tried to explore the extent to which the wall had reduced crop-raiding by elephants,but ended up finding out more about the perceptions of local people regarding this mitigation structure and other impacts the elephant wall had on people’s lives.
Chorgalia comprises four revenue villages with a diverse community, both caste and class wise.About 66 per cent village residents own land,while the remaining 34 per cent are landless and completely dependent on wage labour or odd jobs for their sustenance. Landless people also tend to be heavily dependent on fuelwood, while the more prosperous use other household energy sources such as biogas and lpg, in addition to wood. As is typical of the terai landscape,agricultur-