Every year, more than 60 people are trampled to death by elephants in the forests of West Bengal. According to forest officials at Jalpaiguri, 616 people were killed by rampaging elephants, bisons and leopards in the state during 1986-96. Most of these casualties (502) have occurred in north Bengal. Dwindling forest reserves, mushrooming of shanties in and around the forests and human activities affecting the conventional elephant-routes have forced hungry and displaced elephants to stray into human settlements, leading to clashes with humans.
The problem has been aggravated by the rising number of elephants in the state; there were 286 elephants up to December 1996 as against 186 in 1992. The loss of lives and rural property have forced the state forest department to pay a hefty sum of Rs 27,927,000 so far, as compensation to the affected people. There have also been reports of encroachers killing elephants.
In September 1996, four elephants died an unnatural death when encroachers chased them away from their original habitation in the Mahananda forest reserve. When attacked with firearms, the distraught elephants could not escape through their traditional route, Laftong, which was converted into paddy fields. Finally, they headed towards Gazoldoba, where they accidentally skidded into the swirling waters of Teesta barrage and died.
The Teesta barrage project has also hindered the movement of wild animals in Jaidapara. The proposed Sankosh project between India and Bhutan would further worsen the situation destroying the habitat and traditional routes of wild animals, say environmentalists.