PATHEIN — Two herds of hungry wild elephants destroyed a house and crops in a village in Irrawaddy Region’s Ngapudaw Township on Monday.
According to locals, each herd included at least five elephants. The herds arrived separately from the east and west of the Pathein-Mawtin Road in the township’s Dipayone Kwethit village on Monday evening.
“The two herds were only about 500 feet from each other. They seemed to be starving. They came close to the fences of our houses and ate bananas and other crops. Because they came so close to people, Forestry Police had to fire shots to scare them away,” said Tin Chaung village tract administrator U Tun Lay, who helped police drive the wild elephants away.
A house in Dipayone Kwethit was destroyed by elephants that had wandered into the backyard to eat crops. The elephants were not aggressive toward villagers, local residents said.
“The elephants approached the fences of our houses, but didn’t appear to be hostile. It seems they had been chased by a group of elephant poachers,” said U Tun Lay.
“When one household scared them away, they went to another house. If that house scared them off, they went to the next one. The villagers were too scared to sleep that night [on Monday]. They made noises and lit fires [to keep the elephants away from their houses],” he added.
The elephants were still in the woods near the village on Tuesday morning, he said.
An “elephant-scaring” team was on its way to the village on Tuesday, Khun Pyone Naing, head of Ngapudaw Township Forestry Department, told The Irrawaddy.
The team, formed in June this year and made up of non-governmental organization workers, Forestry Police offers and Myanma Timber Enterprise staff, is tasked with scaring away elephants from human settlements and protecting them from poachers. It conducts regular patrols in forests, and when necessary drives away wild elephants with the help of domesticated elephants.
“Such places are frequently visited by wild elephants. We will drive them back into the forest with the assistance of domesticated elephants,” Khun Pyone Naing said.
For the time being, Forestry and local police are providing security for the village.
According to local residents, wild elephants usually visit farms in search of food from the time of the paddy harvest in November until around May, just before the rainy season starts.
Elephants have seen their habitats shrink dramatically due illegal logging in recent decades, said Sai Zaw Oo, a supervisor at the Myanmar Elephant Lovers Association, which is based in Ngapudaw Township
“So, they come to human settlements to eat paddy, banana and other crops grown by humans. And this has led to human-elephant conflict” he said.
“At the same time, this has given elephant poachers the opportunity to hunt wild elephants that come and search for food,” he added.
Last year, four local villagers were killed in elephant-human conflicts that erupted after the animals started eating crops near Ngwe Saung Beach in the west of Pathein Township, according to the Ngwe Saung Beach police station.
On Nov. 30 Forestry Department personnel had to drive away a wild elephant after it destroyed a house and killed a pig in Kyaukphya village tract in the west of Pathein Township.