By Taniya Dutta
The harrowing reports and images of man-elephant conflict often make headlines from India but a tea farmer is on a mission to change that picture.
Tenzing Bodosa, 32, has found an ingenious way of creating a symbiotic human-elephant relationship in his three-hectare tea garden.
Bodosa runs a lush, sprawling organic tea estate in mountainous Assam state, producing three varieties of tea including green and orthodox black tea.
The young farmer uses only cow dung and urine as manure in his tea gardens and has customers as far and wide as the UK, US. France and Canada.
However, his farm is also known for another achievement.
Bodosa’s tea garden is a certified ‘world’s first and only elephant-friendly tea farm’ by the World Wildlife Foundation in 2015.
Bodosa said: “I strongly believe we have to think about the lives of elephants and other wild animals.
“Humans are occupying all the land, leaving no space for the animals. They need food and space to live.”
Assam, the state in northeastern region, is the second largest tea growing region in the world after China. It produced 610.97 million kg tea in 2015.
The state is also a home to 5719 wild elephants, the highest population of the mammals in the country after southern state Karnataka. Assam has an elephant area of 15,050 square kilometre.
With expansions of tea estates, the elephant habitats are increasingly shrinking, blocking the migratory passage of the animals.
The wild animals come down from the hills in search of food but often stray into tea gardens and paddy fields, causing destruction of crops, ensuing a conflict with humans.
To save their crops from ‘elephant menace’, many farmers have erected electric fences to ward off the animals from entering the tea gardens but resulted in causing injury and even deaths.
At least 761 people and 249 elephants have been killed in the conflict since 2010.
However, Tenzing has created an exclusive space for the elephants.
He has created a five hectares of buffer zone on the outskirts of his tea gardens without drainage so “no baby calf falls into it.”
He lets the passing elephants roam in peace in the buffer zone, does not use chemical pesticides or fertilisers that can be poisonous to the elephants and has added vegetation such as bamboo and jackfruit that the elephants enjoy eating most
Bodosa said: “The elephants do not eat tea leaves but they damage the plants when they stray into the gardens in search of food. If they are scared by humans, they run amok and under their weight, the entire crops are damaged.
“I realised we can avoid any destruction of crop as well as feed the elephants by planting their favourite foods.
“We have planted bamboo, bananas and jackfruits on the buffer zones of the tea garden. The elephants enjoy eating these plants and do not need to come inside the tea garden.
“The best thing is, they are so intelligent that if they start into the garden, they carefully walk on the tracks used by labours for plucking the tea leaves, avoiding any damage to the crops.”
Bodosa has even trained 25,000 farmers at his tea-estate for organic farming and creating jungles for the wild animals.
He now also runs tea estate tourism where people get to exclusively see deer, bears, wild pigs, rabbits, mongoose, peacocks, hornbills, robins, sparrows, and sunbirds, besides elephants.