TT, Jalpaiguri, July 5: A Jalpaiguri school’s midday meal rice has been polished off six times since May, not by thieves, but elephants.
Bichabhanga Primary School, on the fringes of Gorumara National Park, now does not know where to hide the rice.
Last night, the rice meant for 90 students was kept on the top of a watchtower as the small school kitchen had been broken into by a herd of elephants.
This morning, the watchtower was found damaged and the rice eaten.
“The wild elephants are visiting the school at regular intervals. Since the first week of June, the elephants have come here at least six times. Every time, the animals have damaged walls of the school and furniture to eat the rice in the school,” Khurshed Alam, a schoolteacher said. “Even the small kitchen we had was damaged by the animals.”
“It seems the school has become a place for the elephants to get fodder. As they are aware that rice is being kept here, they are coming here again and again. We don’t know how the rice can be saved from the wild elephants,” the teacher said.
Interestingly, it was not only the school building that the elephants were searching for food.
“After repeated incidents last month when the mid-day meal rice was consumed by the herd, we decided to keep the sacks at a watch tower close to the school. Yesterday night, the elephants came and this time, they damaged the watchtower and devoured the rice. We have approached the sub-divisional administration in Malbazar to help us as we have no idea where we should keep the rice,” Alam said.
Forest officials, when asked about such repeated visits of wild elephants, said it was usual for jumbos to do this.
“The elephants have understood that easy fodder is available in the school. That is why they are visiting the site again and again. They can smell rice easily and it would not help even if the rice is concealed somewhere,” a senior forester said.
“The animals can be prevented from visiting the school if the rice is not kept there. There are cases when it has been found that after foraging for fodder in a known area for two-three days, if the elephants do not get it there, they leave that site and go to other places.”
In the Dooars, elephant attacks on schools on the fringes of forests in blocks such as Metelli and Nagrakata are common.
“We have reports from different schools, mostly primary schools, that elephant herds are damaging the buildings and taking away rice kept there. Some schools had tried to store the rice by burying the sacks under the floor but even that did not help,” J. Tanti, the SDO of Malbazar, said. “We will soon speak to forest officials on the issue.”