Hazaribag’s Dudhmatiya forest flourishes as locals plant trees, which provide fodder for elephants and reduce human-animal conflict
A grave mistake in the past has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the villages surrounding the Dudhmatiya forest in Tatijhariya block, about 25 km from Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. It all started in the 1980s, when the population of wolves in the forest began to increase rapidly, causing them to stray and attack children and the elderly. Panic residents then cut down trees in Dudhmatiya to drive away the wolves. But shrinking forest cover has caused wild elephants to wander into villages and attack people.
Mahadev Mahto, then a government school teacher, was one of the many who suffered grievous injuries when more than 20 elephants went on a rampage in Berho village of Tatijhariya block in 1989. The incident prompted Maht to plan plans to revive the elephants' natural habitat. they do not enter villages for food and water. He tied up the people of his village and nearby Bada and Chhota Darbhanga. The same people who once vigorously cut down trees were now told to plant and protect. It was not an easy task.
In 1991, the people of Berho along with the forest official formed a 10-member jungle pashu kshati sahayta kosh to create awareness about forest conservation and habitat restoration for wild elephants. For five years, the committee sensitized people by holding meetings and making announcements through loudspeakers. Over the years, other members have joined the team. In 1995, the committee changed its name to van prani suraksha samiti when it got full support from the forest department. The lush green Dudhmatiya forest of 100 hectares that we see today is the result of the hard work of the committee members to involve as many villagers as possible.
Now aged 72, Soniya Devi of Bada Daharbhanga was among the first to understand the benefits of forest conservation. At that time, she volunteered to stay in a machan (elevated platform made of bamboo and wood) in the forest for six months to alert the villagers of any suspicious vehicle or movement, apart from stopping people from cutting trees. and grazing cattle. Her stay in the forest is not as regular as before. But whenever she stays in the machan, the village women come to spend time with her in the evenings. Although there are no formal groups or rotating machan duties, it goes well. Several villages subsequently adopted the idea, leading to the formation of 434 forest committees. Among the first to join the initiative was Narayan Yadav (76) from Bada Daharbhanga.
“Since the death of my wife, I have been troubled by a recurring dream of Vanaspati maiya asking me to save the forest. She was digging the forest floor to get mud to repair the house, but accidentally got stuck in a pile of loose mud. Two others also died in an incident in 1991,” says Narayan, who adopted Teliya Mat, a nearby forest. Since 2000, only four deaths have been reported in human-animal conflicts in the region, says Anil Agarwal, a forest department official in Hazaribag East, pointing to the success of the forest committees. Parmeshwar Prasad Yadav (55), a migrant laborer who makes it a point to visit his native Bada Daharbhanga during the Dudhmatiya mela, answers Agarwal.
Surendra Prasad Sahu, a resident of Demotand (52), lost just five cents of his agricultural produce this year due to elephant rampage. "It used to be a lot more," he says. With an array of trees like sal, neem, banyan, peepal, amla, mango, banana, karam (adina cordifolia), bael, bamboo, shammi (prosopis cineraria) and mahua blooming in the dense forest, the villages in Hazaribag district have come. a long way to save human lives and support the elephant population in the region.