Sunday, 1 September 2019

Drunk villagers of North Bengal and elephants

A drunk and an elephant. 123rf.com/
That lots of drunks in North Bengal villages find their grave on account of raging elephants is a recent sad news in the print  media.
The problems of intoxication and drunkenness  are world over  and they impact countless populations and groups. They've been part of human society for several centuries. If you go deep into the roots, they have different perspectives for different purposes. The  frenzied, and sensationalised commentary,  and the public debates  on drinking point the accusing finger at the declining  morally bankrupt, permissive social, cultural and economic landscapes of our times. Polly Toynbee (2005), writing in The Guardian, confesses that ‘British drinking culture as we know it is already repulsively uncivilized’. This is true of many countries, including India where in remote places in many states the police have no control over illicit-brewing, boot-legging. etc.
.man-elephant conflict. hindustantimes.com/

According to Toynbee (2005), the damage done by drink is increasing [in the UK], as alcohol-related deaths from cirrhosis, hepatitis and alcohol poisoning have soared by 18% over the past five years. Those figures are dwarfed by the 22,000 violent drinking deaths in car accidents and pub stabbings, with half of violent crime due to drink. Last week’s figures showed under-age “drunk and disorderly” prosecutions up by 25%. (Toynbee 2005). As for the US, the less said, the better. In India the incidence of violent crimes in the cities and towns near the liquor shops and at home   due to alcoholic drink has gone up manifold, in particular, Tamil Nadu. It has become a menace and alcohol related violent incidents have become regular news items in the newspapers.
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A drunk in India newindianexpress.com
In north Bengal the state government is facing a strange problem which needs a serious attention. Here, the tribes,  I understand, produce good  alcoholic brews that attract lots of farmers and tea-estate workers (often elephants too).  Alcoholic brewing, mostly done by women is part of their culture  and a  large number of drunks  in the remote places get killed not because of any side effects or over-drinking of local brew, etc but because of different reasons. Living in the fringe settlements close to the wooded areas, in a drunken stupor, they  chase the wild elephants that cross their settlements looking for food and water.  With  disorientation, loss of reflexes, and direction  they end up being either crushed  or thrown away by the enraged pachyderms.

 In my last post on human-elephant conflicts I mentioned about the habitat loss and growing human settlements in the fringe areas of the forest  were responsible for death of men. Equally annoying is the fact that in some places in NE India, the maundering elephants either get killed or injured by the humans as the threats  in nearby villages by elephants in search of food and water  have assumed a serious problem. In particular, children and women are living in constant fear because the elephant attack may occur at time, particularly during the night. 

According to the Union Environment Minister  Babul Supriyo (June, 2019) in the last five years over 2,300 people in India were killed by elephants while tigers claimed over 200 lives.  In this never-ending confrontation between wild animals and humans, last year alone 494 people hit the grave because of elephant attack. This does not include other wild animals like tiger, Jaguars, etc.

Recently I read with interest a report in ''The Hindu'' dated  25 August, 2019 that one thirds of the people killed by elephants  between 2016 and 2019 in North Bengal were drunk. Invariably, they dug their own grave by chasing the wild beast in an inebriated state. This report was published in Science Journal  Plos One.
This study took into account the profession, age and identity of the victims and reported 36% were drunk on local brew made from called Hania. The tea estate workers and marginalized farmers  need to be educated about dangers of alcoholism and chasing wild beasts in a drunken-state. The study  not only covered spatial
.man-elephant conflict. hindustantimes.com/
patterns of human elephant conflicts vis-a-vis changing land cover and human-dominated landscapes in north Bengal region, but also the temporal and seasonal variations in elephant attacks, land uses, besides the victims age profession, etc.


The study concluded that 74% of victims were males, 17% were tea estate workers, 30% farmers, 19% daily-workers. Villagers who went for gathering wood or attending nature's call constitute a small percentage of victims.  Of particular interest is the elephant attacks are not regular; on the other hand, they are seasonal. Major attacks (54%) took place between May and July followed by 30% attacks between August and September.

The study found changes in land-use patterns. The forest cover is 446 sq.km, but, there has been some decline in tea gardens (reduced by  307 sq.km) and agricultural land (reduced by 128 sq.km). An important fact is the increase in the frequency of human-elephant conflict is due to  increase in human settlement in the past decade by roughly 61 sq.km. It means interference in the animals' access to water sources and their major migration corridors
The elephant population in north Bengal is 446 and the number of death due to elephant attack is just 12% of total deaths in the country

The Ministry said  to reduce the confrontation with elephants physical barriers are set-up  such as barbed wire fence, solar-powered electric fence, bio-fencing using cactus,  et. In some places boundary walls are  erected to prevent the entry of wild animals into crop field. In some remote places in Tamil Nadu. the authorities erected chilly fesses to discourage elephants.
Recently, the West  Bengal government acquired four special vehicles for tracking and tranquilizing elephants. An Elephant Movement Coordination Committee has been formed in the state that gives updates on elephant movement through text messages. In October, 2017, there was a proposal to to set up a unique elephant museum within the Buxa Tiger Reserve area in Alipurduar in north Bengal.  The purpose of this museum by the government  was to reduce the man-elephant conflicts in the state  as much as possible and to eliminate unnecessary fear among human beings about tuskers,


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\As for elephant population in India,  as per the last census in 2017 by the Ministry, there were about 27,312 elephants in the country. A total of 75 elephants died in 2018 while a total of 373 elephants died between 2015 and 2018, the data added.
https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/elephants-killed-over-2300-people-in-last-five-years-environment-ministry/article28208456.ece
 https://www.hindustantimes.com/kolkata/tackling-man-animal-conflict-bengal-govt-plans-elephant-museum/story-ND3PXSnQAnHdQYsEOo3J1J.html