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Kameng Elephant Reserve is located in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh and is one of the 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Contiguous with the Sonitpur Elephant Reserve in Assam, it forms a part of North Bank Elephant Range which is home to about 2700-3000 elephants.
One of the worst cases of human-elephant conflict in recent years has been that witnessed by the people and elephants of Sonitpur district of Assam where both have lost many a life in the last few years of incessant conflict. Just a few kilometers away, separated only by a state boundary and not by any ecological formation, lies the Pakke Wildife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh. Pakke has similar numbers of elephants but better forest cover. However, deforestation had reached its very boundaries in the late 90s and conflict was only a stone’s throw away. In the early part of this new millennium, WTI was offered an opportunity to work on elephants in Pakke. To begin with, there was little understanding of numbers, density or demography of elephant populations in Pakke, nor was there a clear understanding of the conflict. What was clear was that local Nyshi tribesmen were reporting high levels of conflict and the forest department was besieged with calls for compensation.
The elephant project was carried out in Pakke for over five years (2000-2005) and not only did a fairly comprehensive understanding of elephant population dynamics in the area begin to emerge but conservation issues such as resolving the conflict and protecting the corridors that existed in the area were better understood. Simultaneously, the project started conservation action, for WTI projects are not research oriented alone. This is carrying on in some measure to this very day. A watcher compensation scheme was initiated and so were schemes to protect various corridors. Guards were given the first level of anti-poaching training and various small rapid action projects were carried out in the area near Seijosa. This helped win the confidence of the local Nyshi community and forest officials.
The project was greatly strengthened by the continuous support of successive DFOs of the area and the Arunachal forest department in general. The Village Forest Development Committees of the local villages and the Gaon Burrhas were also partners in the project. The project was also unique in involving a non WTI, principal investigator Surendra
Varma (this model has been tried out with great success in a few other projects as well after this) that extended this partnering concept.
This report is a culmination of all that has been learnt and done in Pakke vis-à-vis elephant conservation. Much has changed in the project itself, for example the replacement of the watcher scheme with the grain-for-grain scheme, a unique way of giving relief to those affected by elephant depredations. Even more important to note is, that Pakke has not witnessed any retaliatory killing of elephants by man nor has it claimed a human life in the recent past. This, by itself, is testament to the success of this project.