Assam’s Pascal Munda incident went crazy viral in 2021 after an elephant herd was teased to the point that one of them retaliated and that led to the death of one of the locals. With the whole thing captured on video, it soon racked up huge views and shares and started an ever-evolving discussion on Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC). With social media making its way into the list of the things that create the conflict between humans and elephants – poaching, encroachment, electrocution and deforestation among other things – an increasing need of starting the process of creating conversations around the way humans should behave around animals was necessary. This is when a school teacher from Malbazar in Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal, jumped to action and has been trying to save elephants, and also create awareness around HEC.
The 43-year-old school teacher, SP Panday –who was recently applauded for his work in this sector and awarded the Green Corridor Champion title by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) –has been trying to conduct sensitising workshops in five corridors where elephant herds are seen in abundance. These were Apalchand-Mahananda, Gorumara-Apalchand, Apalchand-Kalimpong (via Sylee TG), Apalchand-Kalimpong (via Meenglass TG) and Chapramari-Kalimpong.
Speaking to The Better India, Upasana Ganguly, Head of the Right of Passage of Elephant Corridors Projects, WTI, said that their collaboration with the school teacher and his association SPOAR (Society for Protecting Ophiofauna and Animal Rights) goes back a long way in 2018. Since then, they have been trying to protect nine corridors and have attempted several ways of protecting the wildlife. They have also initiated a local level action in the surrounding areas.
Panday laid down the statistics of the area that he has been working on – he said that there are almost 500 elephants in the region and due to conflict with the locals, between 2009 to 2018, 116 people died and 217 people were injured. The average annual mortality rate of elephants stands at 7 and through protective measures as initiated by his organisation, almost 50% of them can be prevented.
Panday identified multiple reasons of conflict – alcohol addiction, open defecation, barbed wire accidents and elephants dying while crossing the railway tracks. He said that an convergent approach to curb this issue is necessary and he has been trying to initiate sensitising the process so that cohabiting between humans and elephants can be enabled through empathy. He also wants elephants to be portrayed as a charismatic and majestic mammals and not as animals that can cause harm to the locals.