PACHYDERM POWER

India’s wildlife sanctuaries are using elephants as bulldozers to fight poachers

An elephant evictor.
An elephant evictor.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
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Elephants have been turned into bulldozers in the battle against encroachers in northeastern India.

An increase in incidents of poaching have been a wake-up call for the government to combat encroachment in national parks in Assam. And for over a year now, elephants have been used for demolition duties to curb the human-wildlife standoffs that are putting the animals’ lives in danger. The pachyderms are a popular choice because they are able to reach remote sites more easily than large excavators can.

In Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site that houses two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceros population, settlements housing 300 families were cleared using elephants in September 2016. An August 2017 eviction drive in another Assamese reserve, Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, used elephants to dismantle 283 houses and clear about 200 hectares of forestland.

Both drives came to a halt due to violent protests by disgruntled residents who would be rendered homeless. Two civilians were killed in police firing, and 17 people, including 15 policemen, were injured during the Kaziranga eviction drive. In Amchang, protestors formed human chains and even pelted stones at the evictors, forcing the Assam government to ”temporarily suspend” the eviction activity.

On Nov. 27,  authorities went in to destroy Amchang’s settlements again. This time, the authorities tore down 408 homes across a 150 hectare area in three locations within the sanctuary, displacing over 700 families. And this month’s Amchang eviction was no different, with elephants back on duty.

India Elephant Evictors
Elephants are brought to demolish buildings and other structures during an eviction drive inside the Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary on Nov. 27, 2017.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
APTOPIX India Elephant Evictors
An elephant breaks down a bamboo hut with a tin roof.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
India Elephant Evictors
Elephants reach the nooks and crannies that excavators can’t.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
India Elephant Evictors
Abdul Karim, a resident of the settlement, looks on as an elephant is used to demolish his house.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
India Elephant Evictors
An elephant throws the tin roofs off a house, before destroying the rest.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
India Elephant Evictors
An elephant goes in head-first during the eviction drive.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
India Elephant Evictors
A girl cries as she watches her home being demolished.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
India Elephant Evictors
Crumpled bamboo and broken bricks after the elephant take-down.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
India Elephant Evictors
Illegal encroachers with their belongings wait to leave their destroyed houses.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath
India Elephant Evictors
The elephants at work.
Image: AP Photo/Anupam Nath