Jorhat, Aug 2: A portion of land inside a tea estate, which was conserved by the garden management for several decades, has turned into a wildlife habitat, with leopards, deer, elephants, snakes, birds, monkeys and honey-bees making the forest their home.
What is interesting is that there is no conflict between the workers of the garden and the wild animals, as workers are not allowed to venture inside the forest area. The forest area is in the midst of the garden and the animals normally do not go to the quarters of the labourers, nor roam inside the plantation, possibly because there is sufficient food within the forest.
Vikas Joshi, general manager of Numalighur tea estate in Golaghat district, which is about 40kmwest of Jorhat, told The Telegraph that the forest area is about 40 hectares, covering sections 24 and 25 in the middle of the estate. The total area of the Jorehaut Tea Company garden along National Highway 39 is 900 hectares. He said the exact reason for not carrying out cultivation in the area when the garden was set up more than 130 years ago is not known. However, about four decades ago, when the management saw wildlife activity in the area, which looked like a small forest, it decided not to disturb the animals, and therefore, did not practice cultivation.
“The management continues with the same policy, which is an example of a no-conflict zone,” Joshi said.
“Since then, the management has taken care to preserve and protect the area and prevent human entry to the said habitat. Hence animals like leopards and elephants do not move out to the labour lines,” Joshi said. “As the forest area is deep inside the garden, no outsider ventures into the habitat area,” the general manager added. He said, “Workers of the estate are not allowed to move inside the forest area and are always advised by the management not to panic or chase or tease animals inside the plantation area. They were asked to leave the particular area quietly if a wild animal was seen, and carry on with their job in another area, or if necessary, suspend the work to facilitate the animal to move out from the plantation area.”
In the last seven to eight years, only one incident of a woman labourer being injured by a leopard had occurred. Joshi said leopards not attacking cattle in the labour lines and elephants not creating havoc among the workers, were because of sufficient prey and fodder. Numaligarh forest beat officer Prabhat Saikia said, “The forest area within the estate has been well maintained by the management and the herd of jumbos of the said forest does not indulge in depredation activities in the garden.” Saikia acknowledged the presence of a good number of deer and monkeys in the habitat, on which the big cats fed upon.
Numalighur area falls under an elephant-prone zone with a number of small forests in the area and on the bordering Karbi Anglong district.