On September 29th, Suklal Mardi and his wife Latumai Mardi from Garamani, Birtamod parish, went to the Chandragadi Community Forest to collect fiddlehead fern.
When the couple was picking the plant, Latumai was attacked by an elephant and dragged into the forest. A search team made up of personnel from the Nepalese police and army found Latumai’s body deep in the forest later that afternoon.
Two weeks after Latumai’s death, another woman – 52-year-old Kalpana Rai from Kendra Mode in Bhadrapur, Jhapa district – lost her life to an elephant. But this time it wasn’t an elephant that killed them, but a live electric fence that was erected to prevent elephants from entering settlements.
The elephant threat is widespread in several locations in Jhapa County. But in addition to elephant attacks, residents also died from electric fences that were erected without proper planning.
“People are dying because of the fence they put up to escape the threat posed by elephants,” said DSP Rakesh Thapa, spokesman for the Jhapa District Police Bureau. “We asked the residents not to build any live electric fences, but they hardly pay any attention to us.”
According to the district police department, eight people have been killed in elephant attacks in the past three years, while the number of people who died from illegal electric fences is seven.
Despite the high number of deaths from live electric fences, authorities have shown no concern about solving the problem.
“This topic does not fall within our remit. The Electricity Department should look into it, ”said Om Nath Bhattarai, information officer for the Division Forest Office. “Electric current shouldn’t be allowed to flow through the line, but the locals don’t stick to it and people lose their lives as a result.”
Last year, 60-year-old Badri Thapaliya from Magurmadi, Mechinagar Township, died when she came into contact with a live electric fence. A year earlier, in 2019, Badri’s brother had also lost his wife to an unmanaged electric fence.
Meanwhile, the settlements in the north and south of the district are exposed to the threat of wild elephants every year.
Each year, wild elephants moving between Nepal and India wreak havoc in several areas of the district, including Bahundangi, Buddhashanti, Arjundhara, Birtamod and Mechinagar in the north and Bhadrapur, Haldibari, Barhadashi, Kachankawal and other areas in the south.
According to local residents, they are being forced to erect electric fences around their homes and farms in order to save their livelihoods.
“We put electric fences around our houses to protect against wild elephants,” said Rohit Dhungana from Magurmadi. “We have to save our crops from the elephants.”