1.      The State of Environment

With the advent of modernization developments are on rise to feed the need and greed of rising population. At the same time challenges to rising population are seen in different ways. The ecosystem “degraded” with increase of pressure to environment. Everything on environment seems to be prioritized as human’s asset. What is left on environment without explored? Can we say our environment is virgin? We cannot just boast over our rich biodiversity. Yes, we have more than 80% forest coverage but, are our farmers still happy and safe from rising issues from wildlife depredation on crops and livestock? Aren’t we failing to meet the need of rising population with development?

2.     Development and the Challenge

Nichula is by far one of the “underdeveloped” geog in southern Bhutan. The geog is not only challenged by climatic conditions like heavy rainfall in summer blocking all road connectivity but also with rising issues of Human Elephant Conflict (HWC). The geog farm road has been blocked with landslide few months ago and people are now facing the pressure of Elephant. Who is responsible to maintain?
 
Phibsoo wildlife Sanctuary has successfully installed electric fencing covering 5km of the area in 2016. The fencing has been challenged with damage of machine from lightening causing it to be short circuited. Repeatedly, the maintenance has been carried out supplying wires and machines. Even then, the problem cannot be solved as the machine is being damage by lightening repeatedly.
 
There is exactly two “wild” Elephant which has been repeatedly causing damage to the assets of the community. It knows well enough to cope with electric fencing. Yes, electric fencing has benefited but time has ripe to look for different measures as the animal is intelligent enough to cope with the challenge. “Elephant is now a fence breaker”. Beekeeping is found as good measure to drive away elephant in some part of the country. Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary has discussed on it and derived a resolution to adopt the practice in Nichula geog. Creation of artificial salt lick is another activity that we have prioritized in reducing elephant pressure.

3.     Stimulus and Reaction

As public servant placed in the remote village, we the forest rangers has been providing continuous service of chasing elephant irrespective of time and day.  But, it is also very sad to see less public cooperation in the work we are doing. There are several careless people who need to be monitored and watched to do the work which actually is of their responsibility. The electric fencing poles after damage by elephant is left un-erected and maintained. The fact is often the poles become the pole to tie cattle.
People don’t hesitate to say we are paid to chase elephant by the state with salary. Yes, they have every right to say but with logical statement. We are actually doing more than what is mention in our job description. It is not that we expect in return for the extra work. We need to see changes to the village. Even in Saturday and Sunday we often do not have rest. We have given public as priority and attended in the works like maintenance of electric fencing which was done with the convenience of people. We have been after Elephant carrying weapons many a time. We promptly reacted anytime though there are many inconvenience. To be with weapons and chase Elephant has associated risk. Firstly, to travel all way to Lhamoyzingkha to get weapon is difficult as the area is challenged with road condition. Secondly, we as the conservationist have to keep in mind the safety of wildlife, human and assets during the incident. The only thing we can do is chase with a blank fire which often does not satisfy the people.

4.     A Night in the Forest

In the evening of Blessed Rainy Day, when people in different part of country celebrated with laughter and joy, we the Rangers of Nichula had difficulty in chasing Elephant. It rained so heavily and we promptly reacted to chase away the Elephant after an order is passed on us. The people know how challenging it was for us with weapons on that night. Still then there are many who says we are there just as a presence. The fact is no sooner did elephant enter the boundary; we are call to chase it away. They don’t try themselves first and even if they can chase away we are called to chase. This isn’t a win-win situation especially during night to attend to situation which is almost an hour journey.
Yes, it is so sad to see the crops being damage by the elephant. We share the grievances of people together when we see the fruit of hard-work being destroyed in minutes. Elephant is endangered species given conservative importance by the world and government. We are there to ensure its safety and value but at the same time we are there to help community and ensure them safe from wildlife issues. But, in the place like Nichula we cannot only ensure the people happy if different stake holders like people, government, project agencies don’t play role.

5.                 SWOT Analysis for the Human Elephant Conflict at Nichula

A.      Strength

    i.      According to the feedback provided by the people, after initiation of electric fencing the pressure to crops has been reduced for a year.
  ii.      Electric fencing has been covered in all Chiwogs of Nichula. The geog agriculture extension together with Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary covered with recent electric fencing in all area of Bichgoan. This covers to more than 17 km of solar fencing in the geog.

B.      Weakness

           i. Poor maintenance and carelessness from the people. The electric fencing poles and lines are remained in-corrected after damage. Sense of belonging is lacking with the people.

         ii.  Repeated damage of machine by the lightening. The current machine “S5” isn’t suitable in the place.
       iii.    Improper functioning of Quick Response Team and less participation from people during Elephant chase away.
       iv.      Lack of understanding with the cooperation and people in the village. The work like electric fencing remained divided which after all is duplication. Had FMCL, joined with public, there could have been extra machines to cover up the area with good current.

C.   Opportunities

           i.      The costly machine MS/UNIQUE is found suitable in the area. The only machine supported      by geog is still functioning when many of other machines got damage by lightening.
        ii.      Since the area is pressured by repeated incident, original wire which does not rust is found to   be suitable so that it become win-win measure.

D.      Threats

           i.      If the incident continues there is every chance that our farmers’ crops become the feed of elephant. Every night farmers are losing the crops to wildlife.
         ii.      If the current machine and wire is not replaced with good one, the conflict cannot be reduced. The only means of chasing will be tedious for farmers and wildlife managers.

6.     The Dream of Correction. What is needed?

a.      People/Public

The sense of belonging has to be developed to the people. Electric fencing is a mitigation measure to reduce elephant entry. There is no guarantee that it can prevent it from entering. With service comes responsibility, it is the true responsibility of people to maintain the fencing post, wires, machines and do timely clearing as per the bylaws. There are many cases of people being ignorant and leaving the post un-erected after the damage. The fact is electric fencing post became the pole to tie cattle. Many machines are damage directly connecting the circuit without using the adapter. Guard the crops, electric fencing does not guarantee the elephant from entering. It will reduce the pressure as people have experienced in the last years. Moreover, elephants are cleaver enough to challenge the measure. Make the quick response team function. We have experienced little participation from the community during chase away. If all participate and chase, there is no need to chase elephant with weapon.
           i.      Implementer: The local government and geog administration must encourage and correct the people with this regard. Since they are the representative of people, they can change the mindset of people if strict rules are regulations are set for it. The bylaws go weak when the technology doesn’t bring much benefit. People get hopeless and discontinue which later impact themselves.

7.      Project Implementer and agencies: 

Project agencies like government institutions, geog institutions and NGOS have been helping in every walks to address the HWC issues. If project implementer make good proposal to get quality wires which does not rust and get good machines designed for elephant. The issues could be solved. According to the feedback from the people the machine MS/UNIQUE functions well and does not get damage. The original wire which doesn’t get rusted is needed. Singye geog is known for its success against HEC, the geog has metallic poles which is good enough to face elephant. If the implementers could manage such assets from agencies this could help in reducing Human Elephant Conflict.
a.       Implementer: Geog agriculture extension and wildlife manager are responsible for proposing the assets since they are the one who have started the project. They can really implement it because they have adequate knowledge of the situation. The geog administration can also help in funding to buy the assets as this could be one of the real developments if successful.

8.     Government

In the last ten years our farmers have lost their crops sometimes during their start and in end at the time of harvest. It is very sad to see their product being lost in front of our eyes. Needless to say, I wonder if our farmers have been benefited with crop compensation. If the compensation schemes haven’t been functioning it is high time that it be started.
a.       Implementer:The elected member of National Council and Assembly of the area is responsible to address the issue in the parliament. To start a corruption free compensation scheme need to be started by the government. Development of national policies for problem elephants and encourage research into alternative HEC management options.

7. The SAFE Approach to Human Wildlife Conflict

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is widely known for its consistent support toward conservation throughout. In most of our conservation projects, it acts as a stepping stones towards achieving the objectives. Recently, with the support from WWF, we the team (Wildlife managers, local leaders, resource person) had done thorough discussion and identified certain measures for mitigating Human Wildlife Conflict. The SAFE approach according to their verbal announcement proved to be successful in many geogs which has been challenging with HWC.
SAFE approach aims to bring safety in person/people, assets and wildlife through six elements. The elements include policy, prevention of conflict, mitigation, response to conflict, understanding the conflict and monitoring.  It compiles HWC information, does rapid assessment, develop strategy, implement strategy and monitor.

7.1 Activity Listed for Mitigating HWC

  •  Creation of Community Forest, Private Forest, Salt lick enrichment, introduction of fodder trees in forest, Afforestation and reforestation to improve the habitat and ecosystem as whole.
  • Introduction of hybrid cattle, milk processing unit, farmers group and cooperatives to reduce pressure to environment and at the same time create source of income generation and employment opportunities.
  •  Introduce new variety of crops, cereals and vegetables for income generation.
  • Maintenance of electric fencing with suitable machines and wires. Rectification of angle projection’
  •  Ecotourism along Sunkosh for income generation through rafting, birding and other environmental services.
  •  Sustainable Land Management programs for protecting the asset. Through such programs habitat is more likely to improve.
  •  Introduction of proper crop insurance scheme to address the grievance of farmers after loss of crops to wildlife and also for the safety of wildlife.
                    “When will the SAFE Approach come? Will the SAFE bring Safety?”
                                             “My Personal Views with Experience”