In an age when man-animal conflicts are rising every day, Bodoland plays host to the world’s only elephant-friendly tea gardens in the Udalguri district. Here, the gentle giants are as welcome as anyone else to take a stroll in the tea bushes.
Tea estates across different districts of Assam are prone to damage from elephants passing through in search of food. Although elephants do not eat tea leaves, their long migration routes often cut through tea gardens. Their passage through tea estates inevitably leads to human-animal conflicts and damage to property. As a result, owners of tea gardens have found various methods to keep these gigantic animals at bay. The traditional methods include firing crackers, digging deep drainage ditches, spraying harmful pesticides and putting up electric fencing on both sides of the gardens to prevent the entrance of the elephants. The tea gardens of Udalguri district of Assam, however, are unique in their practice of protecting the elephants that pass through, rather than chasing them away. Here, the farmers do not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers that can be poisonous to elephants or the vegetation they eat. Rather, the farmers take care to specially grow vegetation that is suitable for the elephants’ diet.
Tensing Bodosa, a local farmer also plants bamboo, star fruit and other plants that the elephants love. Other trees such as the cotton trees (kapok tree) are also grown. Tensing has also built a water facility for the elephants visiting the tea gardens. Since water and food is made available to the elephants, they do not go looking for food in the nearby villages and human settlements. This is an ingenious way to keep the elephants distracted away from the tea gardens. This innovative measure allows the migrating elephants to move through the gardens without the threat of injury. As the elephants are able to roam in peace, the risk of elephant-human conflict and injuries reduces considerably.
Another attraction for visitors to the tea gardens of Udalguri are the different kinds of resting houses found inside. Sang ghor, which are the typical Assamese houses raised on a platformas well as tree houses, are built inside the gardens. The Udalguri tea estate, committed to elephant conservation and promotion of coexistence with forest animals, is a must visit.
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