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Living in fear in Gelephu

Once upon a time, present day Gelephu was called Hatisar- Land of Elephants. The small town expanded. The vast flat land provided enough space for expansion.

First came a few houses. The settlers found plenty of opportunities. Today, the town is a Class A thromde. It has expanded deep into the once teak jungles. The human encroachment has angered the Hatis, the elephants. They are claiming their land! This time it had come at the cost of a human life. An elephant killed a 41-yearold man on December 3. The news had created panic in Gelephu. It has become the favourite words for parents to scare their children straying out even at daytime. There could be elephants lurking around any time of the day. There is an eerie silence at Zamlingthang where the victim resides. Zamlingthang is well connected with roads.

There is lot of activities as the thromde is busy expanding the town creating basic amenities like roads and streetlights. The concerned authorities say there is no such immediate strategy to deal with wild life danger. The residents of the town will have to live with the fear.

The Director of Department of Forest and Park Service, Phento Tshering said that there is no such strategy to react wild life danger. โ€œAn elephant killing a man in Gelephu, for the first time is accidental and itโ€™s a rare,โ€ he said. โ€œThere is no compensation from the department.โ€ The dzongkhag is bitter in calming the fear.

Sarpang Dzongda Karma Galay said that dzongkhag in collaboration with forest department is trying their best to solve the humanwildlife conflict. He said that dzongkhag forestry set up electric fencing but were not enough to protect people or crops from the elephants, as the jumbos damaged it. โ€œPeople think that Dzongkhag is not Living in fear in Gelephu doing anything to tackle the problem.โ€

To the victim of the December 3 โ€œaccidentโ€, the Dzongkhag Kidu office gave Nu.10000 as Royal Semso. Semso is a financial condolence from the His Majesty to help to conduct funeral rites resulting to death from natural disasters.

Gelephu Gup, Ugyen Wangchuk said that humanwildlife conflict is major problem in southern Bhutan. โ€œThere is no immediate solution for such conflict. The only way is by changing the Wildlife Act of 2016,โ€ he added. He said that with the help of forest personnel, army, police and community people have driven elephants many times but the danger keeps returning as the elephants are becoming wilder even more.

Desperate, the gewog is resorting to appeasing the protective deities. โ€œNow we need to conduct community rimdro to dispel such problems,โ€ he said. A community rimdro was already conducted. Dema Lhamo from Pemaling said villagers have to stay with fear all the time. She said elephants come at night and locals have to drive them away. โ€œThe forest is not cleared and it must be the reason why elephants come in our village. We would be happy if government can drive away elephants to some other places,โ€ she suggested. Jambay Wangmo expressed her fear that life in Gelephu has become risky with elephants.

Respected in her culture as โ€˜Meme Sangay,โ€™ she said disturbance to the sacred animal could anger them. Meanwhile, without any ideas, the only hope for the residents is keep hoping that the elephants will spare them.


By Sangay Rabten


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