Guwahati: The Assam forest department’s hanging solar-powered electric fences have turned out to be an effective tool in keeping wild pachyderms at bay, thus addressing the problem of man-elephant conflict in some forest fringe areas, an official said on Monday.
Steel wires are hung in a row from a three-metre high horizontal overhead wire supported by posts on both ends. The wires are connected to a solar power system and elephants receive a mild shock if they try crossing through the hanging wires.
Such a fence has been installed on the fringe of Rani Reserve Forest near Guwahati and “it has helped overcome the problem of elephants destroying human settlements and paddy fields,” Range Officer Manoranjan Barman said.
The two km-long solar-powered fence from Nalapara to Belguri and from Mahindri to Silkhuta, built at Rs 8 lakh in Rani forest area in July last year.
Dinesh Nath, a farmer from Moirapur village of greater Rani area, said the solar fence has been able to ward off depredations by pachyderms in human settlements and helped save their paddy fields from being mowed down.
Forest officials said that the solution, besides being cost-effective when compared to conventional fences, has an advantage that if at all an elephant breached the fence and entered human habitations, it could be driven back to the forests by temporarily switching off the current flowing through the fence.
Such hanging fences were set up earlier in the state by the forest department in association with others.
In Manas National Park, a five-km long hanging fence installed by Wildlife Trust of India in collaboration with the forest department last year has also kept the jumbos out of human-inhabited areas.
“As the wires of the fence hang from a height, they are beyond the reach of elephant tusks,” said a forest official.
In 2014, at a site called Subankhata on the eastern part of the Manas Tiger Reserve, a biodiversity conservation group Aaranyak persuaded local communities to convert their illegal electric fences into solar-powered electric fences that are non-fatal.
With active participation from the villagers, a 14-km-long fence was erected that benefitted about 1,000 households as well as approximately 100-odd elephants that inhabit the area, officials said.
Almost six and a half years down the line, the fences are still functional and no incidents of deaths of an elephant or human have occurred in the area because of the conflict between them.
Subsequently, a few more km of such fences were installed with improvised techniques. A total of 24.5 km of solar-powered electric fences were erected at two sites in Baksa district and 7.5 km in Nagaon district with support from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and Elephant Family India Foundation.
Officials said that in another instance, a solar-powered electric fence was installed in the premises of a primary school in Nagaon district, with the support of the Center for Large Landscape, Montana University, USA, which benefitted about 10,000 households.
The fences are erected in such a manner that they encompass villages, without hampering the passage of elephants, thus fostering human-elephant coexistence.
Hanging fences are a novel concept in human-elephant conflict management and have been used in Sri Lanka and also in southern India with promising results.
“The major advantage of these fences is that they are much higher than conventional fences (14 ft) and are also electrically charged (solar) to give a mild shock to the pachyderms who learn and adapt to avoid interactions with the fences”, a forest department spokesperson said.
These fences hang like a curtain with a gap underneath for smaller animals to cross and cannot be toppled easily. The wires carry an average 9-kilovolt charge, the maximum being 11 kilovolts.
In recent times, to mitigate human-elephant conflicts, the Assam government has launched anti-depredation squads of the forest department, who are well-trained and better equipped to deal with such conflicts.
A total of 812 people have died due to human-elephant conflict in Assam during the last 10 years.
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