Kamal Majhi, a 53-year-old, lost his life on December 4 when he was attacked by a wild elephant while returning home to Belbari Municipality-10 from Letang.
Earlier, on December 1, 40-year-old Dhan Bahadur Ban, the watchman of Rankali Community Forest in Haldibari Rural Municipality-3 of Jhapa, met a similar fate when he was trampled to death by a wild elephant while on duty.
Adding to the unfortunate incidents, on November 29, Rabin Khadka from Sunsari’s Itahari Sub-Metropolitan city-2 succumbed to an elephant attack. He lost his life instantly when an elephant entered the settlement from the forest during the night.
Tragedy struck again on November 21 when a 72-year-old, Padma Lal Tamang, residing in the Bhutanese refugee camp at Beldangi in Jhapa, Damak, fell victim to a wild elephant attack.
The Koshi Pradesh Police Office, based in Biratnagar, reports that in little over two weeks, four people have been killed by wild elephant attacks across three districts. The presence of herds of elephants has struck fear in the local communities, leading to the destruction of crops and damage to physical structures.
Crossing through settlements
According to DSP Ranjan Dahal from the District Police Office Morang, a herd of wild elephants has been spotted in Belbari, Bhaune, Mangalbare, and Kanepokhari forests in Morang.
Reportedly, there are around 25 wild elephants in the area, and in response to their presence, the police, in collaboration with local residents, have initiated patrols. The wild elephants have entered settlements, causing damage to farmers’ crops.
DSP Dahal said that the purpose of these patrols is to alert the public about the presence of elephants, mitigate potential accidents, and prevent further damage. Teams comprising the Armed Police Force, Nepal Police, and Forest Security have been deployed equipped with sirens to deter elephants from entering settlements from the forested areas.
Following the arrival of wild elephants, the Belbari Chisang Collaborative Forest User Group in Belbari has issued a request to locals, urging them not to venture into the forest for grass and fodder. The elephants, that crossed into Nepal from India via Bahundagi in late October, have recently been spotted in the forested areas of Morang and Sunsari.
The herd, originally entering India from Bahundangi in Jhapa, has traversed through Urlabari, Letang, Miklajung, Belbari, Kanepokhari, Kerabari, and Pathri areas of Morang via Humsedumse. Additionally, sightings of wild elephant herds have been reported in the Tarahara and Koshi Tappu regions of Sunsari.
Why are wild elephants seen in the area?
Conservationist Ashok Ram highlights the risk posed by wild elephants venturing out of the forest in search of food when they enter settlements. He emphasises that human carelessness plays a role in people getting attacked by elephants. According to Ram, the migration of elephants from Bahundangi to Koshi Tappu through India has been a longstanding phenomenon.
“Earlier the area was covered with forest and thick vegetation, which held the information about the presence of elephants,” he said, “However, encroachment of the elephant’s habitat, lack of food, encroachment of the elephant’s walking path has created the problem and threat to human life.”
Observations from conservationists indicate that elephants typically enter Nepal from India during the months of October-November and May-June. Conservationist Ashok Ram notes that during these periods, male elephants tend to exhibit heightened aggression, coinciding with their mating season.
Interestingly, in recent years, there has been a noticeable absence of a large herd of elephants from India crossing the Mechi River and entering Nepal.
“Even the elephants that came sporadically had come back as far as Chulachuli, Maikhola,” he said, “This year a group of elephants came up to the Koshi River during May-June, and now they have been seen again.”
Ashok Ram recounts a significant incident from 1974 when a large elephant herd entered Nepal from India. He mentions that considerable efforts were exerted to successfully guide the herd back to India.
Ram also notes that attempting to chase herds of elephants that enter settlements has led to numerous accidents, highlighting the challenges and risks associated with managing these situations.
“We need to realise elephants are dangerous. But we lack public awareness on how to get away from them and what we need to do when they enter settlements,” says Ram.
Faster compensation mechanism
Ganesh Upreti, the Tourism, Forest, and Environment Minister of Koshi Province, has issued a directive to expedite the compensation process for families who have lost their loved ones in elephant attacks. Upreti personally visited Kirtiman Tol in Letang-3 of Morang to offer condolences to the family of Kamal Majhi, who lost his life in an elephant attack on Monday. During his visit, Upreti instructed the concerned employees to ensure prompt compensation without any delays.
During the zero hour of the State Assembly meeting on December 5, Members of Parliament raised concerns and sought accountability from the government regarding the recent elephant attack. In response to the situation, Upreti visited the home of the deceased’s family on Wednesday to address the concerns and offer support.
“We should make things easy for people. We cannot take 30 days to prepare an investigation report when it can be done in two. We need to expedite the compensation mechanism,” said Upreti.
Upreti gave the family of the deceased Rs 50,000 as the funeral expenses. Late Kamal Majhi is survived by his wife, two sons, a daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters.