We’ve been talking about human-animal conflict for quite a long time now. Because, the rights of humans precede animals and borders are demarcated; whereas, in reality, it’s not. The equation of planet Earth and the term we know as ‘natural’ is changing too fast. With the rapid urbanization and scarcity of food and living space, it’s not just the human millennials of the new era who are embracing co-living for sharing space, experience, and food. It’s the rising universal need on earth that along with humans, animals are also adapting to this reality very very fast! This photo story captures how the so-called conflict is gradually transitioning (if not fully) into a new normal of co-living that is beyond our imagination of being ‘natural’. It’s incumbent on us to see the changing world, accept the reality, and make provisions accordingly for humans as well as animals to live in harmony.
I attempted to document the adaptive behavior of the giants on the earth, a large group of wild elephants. They regularly traverse through the forests into the villages, towns, highways, and tea gardens of Assam (East of India). In this process, they go through an enormous amount of interaction/conflict with humans. However, their growing intent and persistence to adapt and live with adversities by sharing the land that has been taken away from them are quite apparent. The pressure is so high from the elephants that the local inhabitants, most of them have already accepted their presence as a part of life, they call them Baba (God) and Dangoriya (the elder one) and the people who are aggravated (for good reasons) are rethinking ways to adapt.
Above, a group of wild elephants comfortably crossing a road with houses on both sides. The urban dwellers on both sides have accepted the regular visit, they know the timing and cautiously step aside paving ways for the elephants to cross. Even the domestic cow in this image who joined the giants in the parade seems very comfortable as the cow knows them well. With the rapid urbanisation, the unpaved road is now under construction, and sand gravel is laid, which will soon transform into a concrete road (see the video).
As the forest cover is shrinking, their food resources are depleting. However, some of the food they seek is found only in neighboring villages and urban areas. I believe the reason is more than hunger and shrinking living space; the taste of paddy, vegetables, salt, and local liquor to feel high are some overarching reasons that are often ignored. They are new age 21 Century elephants with more and more proximity to humans. As the human and the elephant population together are thriving and the invasion of forests continues, the distinction between human areas and forest areas is fading. Hence, they choose to venture out, at times in broad daylight. So much so that they not only discovered their pathways but dares to walk through the houses on both sides of the road, some of those are no more dirt roads but well laid out and included highways as well.
The group is foraging on a paddy field and they can clear many acres in a few hours; this is the major reason for the conflict with villagers as they need to deal with the crop damage and income loss. Of late, the idea of community farming to offer crop to elephants near the forests are being discussed, so that they stop venturing too far away from their main habitat. (Image shot by Rahul Baruah)
Large groups stay united mostly during their ventures into the human world, a solid deterrent against any measures and effort to push them away. For the elephants, it’s a new taste, the nutrition they need to add to live well. Hence, they are in a foray to expand their living space. Perhaps, it’s a sign that our forests are no longer remain as healthy as before. I named them garden elephants as they venture out from the forest to the tea gardens as their first safe habitat and then enter into the adjacent villages and the urban areas mostly at night. Once they are done with their mission they go back to the nearby forest cover every morning only to come back again, once the sun sets.(image shot by Rahul Baruah)
Ruling the road: They wait for the group to get together before barging onto this road all at once. The body language speaks for itself that we have the right on this path.
None of the houses, nor any objects are touched, the mission is just to peacefully cross path with humans. The end of the road is the forest where they spend the day and come back again in the evening by the same route.
The image below captures the last few in the group when they put up a power show once they reached the tail end of the road, thereafter the forest cover starts. By tightly holding each other the females in the group turn their faces towards the villagers and make a high-decibel grunt to show their authority as well as make it clear that together they are strong.
This stitch video above documents the story of this elephant group that chooses not to let go of its legacy and right on the land where they used to freely roam. Even though the natural dart track has been replaced with a concrete road with houses on both sides, elephants decided to continue their parade through it and made it clear that they wanted to co-live and live in harmony.