FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Alipurduar, April 28: The management of the Dhumchipara tea estate has sent an SOS to the forest department to keep at bay wild animals which have been straying into the garden and hampering work for the past one month.
D.K. Arora, the manager of the estate, said labourers could not finish their full complement of plucking, as they were reluctant to work in sections of the garden where wild animals had been seen.
“In the past one month, quarters of 20 workers have been destroyed by wild elephants and five workers have been mauled by two leopards. Yesterday, a bison created such a panic that the workers who had began plucking tea leaves ran away,” Arora said.
Foresters steered the animal towards the Lankapara forest by bursting crackers. No one was, however, injured by the bison, which kept charging at the crowd that had gathered around it.
Following the leopard attacks on the workers during the past week — the last incident being on Friday — the forest department set up trap door squeeze cages in the garden. However, no big cats have been caught yet. Since then, a group of forest guards from Madarihat has been patrolling the area daily.
The manager said he had asked the foresters to send a team of experts to study and suggest ways to stop the regular incursions by wild animals. “If we cannot complete the plucking of tea leaves, the quality of tea deteriorates.”
Considering the fact that the leopard could not be caught despite laying a cage and the bison took a long time to be driven away, Arora told the forest officials that their men were “ill-equipped” to tackle this kind of situations.
The tea estate, about 14km from NH31C, is surrounded by the Dhumchi forest, which is almost adjacent to Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary on one side and the Lankapara forest on the other. Lankapara is contiguous to the forests of Bhutan.
The divisional forest officer of the wildlife III division, Om Prakash, said steps had been taken to control the straying animals in Dhumchipara.
“We have already posted an elephant squad to prevent the entry of wild elephants and cages have been set up for leopards. They have live goats tied inside as baits. However, no leopard has taken the bait,” the divisional forest officer said.
He said he would speak to the garden authorities and listen to their suggestions if they had any. “We will also go to the garden and tell the workers what steps to take when wild animals enter,” Om Prakash said.