The tea gardens in Assam will soon be converted into mini wildlife sanctuaries to protect its fauna and to reduce cases of man-animal conflict in the area. The wildlife body, World Wide Fund for nature (WWF) and Apeejay Tea, which owns 17 plantations in Assam, together initiated elephant conservation measures in the area to proctect the wildlife of Assam.
India’s second largest tea producer Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL) too is sketching out plan with WWF to nurture wildlife in its gardens. According to A.K. Bhargava, Managing Director of Apeejay Tea, there are large mammals living inside the tea plantations that are a part of natural habitat. He added, “The population of mammals is deplecting year by year, giving way to more such animals to take shelter in the tea estates. Therefore, we need a sustainable comprehensive management plan to look after the animals living here.”
Assam Tea Gardens are more or less a secondary forest for wild animals and migratory birds and the large mammals like leopard and elephant are frequently spotted amidst tea bushes. The wildlife expert Robin Eastment said, “One can easily spot elephants here that use tea estates for fodder, passage, and shelter. There are also several deer and rhinos that cross over to adjoining tea gardens from Kaziranga forest upon flooding.” Robin Eastment is preparing an elephant management plan for APPL.
He furtther added, “Through this plan we can also reduce human-elephant conflict, which is frequent here. The jumbos damage the crop and attack laboourers, who work in tea estates.”
The APPL along with WWF decided to facilitate movement of elephants between Kaziranga forest and Karbi Anglong hills. They have decided to set aside a part of Hatikhuli and Diffloo tea estates to use them as corridor that can be used by animals like leopard and deer. Likewise, Apeejay has also decided to make the passage used by elephant through its Sessa Tea Estate in Sonitpur.
The forest surrounding the tea plantations have become fragmented, resulting in the movement of animals towards other forests in search of food and shelter. These animals often cross tea gardens and this has led to increase in incidents of human-animal conflict, which is a current major issue for those working in tea estates.
“On an average 400 people get killed in India every year in conflicts with elephants. Keeping the safety of labourers, in mind, we have decided to follow the principle ‘our home and their.’ We are training our staff members on dos and don’ts when they encounter a wild animal on their path,” said Dipankar Ghose, Director (Species and Landscape) WWF-India.
Further A.K. Bhargava added on this, “We have decided to live by the coexistence norm as conflict with animal is not a solution. So, the staff of the tea gardens has been provided training to live with wildlife. All residents of tea gardens are made aware about ‘no hunting’ as a policy and a principle of Apeejay Tea.
Apeejay declared a three-year strategic partnership with WWF to prevent and manage man-elephant conflict in Sonitpur district, the hotbed of such harsh encounters. “After elephants, leopards are our object of concern as they too are part of tea gardens. In a recent incident a leopard attacked a staffer, grievously injuring him,” said Bhargava.
He mentioned, “The only way to tackle the issue is converting the tea gardens into mini sanctuaries, where animals can be given safe passage to move freely without attacking on the staff members, working on the field.