11 Jun 2009, 0519 hrs IST, Pinak Priya Bhattacharya, TNN
JALPAIGURI: Nepal police allegedly fired at a herd of elephants near the Mechi river on the India-Nepal border, injuring several of them. This is a near-repeat of a similar incident two years ago.
Even a team of Indian forest guards from the Kurseong division was shot at when it crossed over to Nepal to try and persuade the police to desist from firing at the animals. The guards had to take cover on the bank of Mechi and crossed back to India after two hours. While the herd has moved back to Indian territory, it is still not clear if any elephant has been killed in Nepal or if those which have returned have got bullet injuries.
Mechi happens to fall on end of the traditional elephant corridor in north Bengal that stretches for 400 km till Sankosh on the Assam border. Every year, the herd enters Nepal and moves back to India after having crossed the Mechi river. In 2007, the Nepal police had opened fire on the herd killing a tusker. Several had received bullet injuries leading to an outcry from animal rights organizations all over the world. It was alleged that the herd was destroying crops and property. On that occasion, too, the Indian forest department had tried to persuade the forest officials in Nepal's Dhapa district to desist from firing but their efforts had failed.
On Tuesday evening, a herd of around 60 pachyderms entered Dhapa. Soon, the elephants reached Bamondangi village where an elephant had been shot in 2007 and started raiding homes and fields. The Nepal police, that had been waiting on the banks of the Mechi, opened fire. For around two hours, they fired indiscriminately at the herd. The gunshots alerted the Indian authorities who sent a team of guards from the Kurseong division. But they were not spared either. Even before the guards could reach the Nepal police outpost, they were sprayed with bullets. Even though they managed to evade the bullets, the guards had to lie on the ground for two hours, waiting for the firing to stop.
The forest department suspects that several members of the herd that has now crossed back to Kalabari forest in Darjeeling district could have sustained bullet injuries. "We have been hearing distressed trumpeting calls from the forest which is a bad sign. It indicates that some elephants are injured. We are trying to locate the injured animals," said Silvand Patel, chief conservator of forests, wild life, north Bengal.
Wild life activists and senior forest officials reacted angrily to the firing. "This is not only unethical but violates international rules as well. This has been happening for the last two years despite repeated appeals to spare the elephants. We are going to take it up with union government soon," said Animesh Basu, convenor, Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation. The Foundation plans to write a letter to the union environmentminister informing him about the firing.
Senior forest officials felt it was futile to try and persuade the Nepal authorities to stop firing at elephants. "Two years ago, we had several meetings with the Dhapa forest officials. They had agreed not to fire and seek our help in controlling the herd. Accordingly, we had helped them put up power fences and even trained their workers to drive away the elephants without harming them. But they went back on their word," said S S Bist, elephant expert and managing director of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation. Bist had taken the initiative in 2007 to try and persuade Nepal into an agreement. "Through the Indian embassy, they had promised not to open fire on herds. Now, it is clear that such agreements have no value. We must restrict the elephants to Indian territory. They can be confined to the Mahananda sanctuary and prevented from entering Nepal," added Bist.
Last year, an elephant had been electrocuted in Nepal. Later, it died of its injuries in India.