Incredible reports and images of human-elephant conflict often stir public opinion from India, but one tea farmer is on a mission to change that picture.
Tenzing Bodosa, 32, has found an ingenious way to create a symbiotic relationship between humans and elephants in his three-hectare tea garden.
Bodosa runs a large, lush organic tea farm in the mountainous state of Assam, producing three varieties of tea, including authentic green and black tea.
The young farmer only uses cow dung and urine as manure in his tea garden and has customers from all over the world, such as the UK and the US. France and Canada.
However, his farm is known for another achievement.
Bodosa’s Tea Garden is the world’s first and only elephant-friendly tea farm certified by the World Wildlife Foundation in 2015.
“I really believe we have to think about the lives of elephants and other wildlife animals,” said Bodosa.
“Humans are taking up all the land. There is no space left for animals. They need food and space to live.”
Assam, the state in the northeast, is the second-largest tea-growing region in the world after China. It produced 610.97 million kg of tea in 2015.
The state is also home to 5719 wild elephants, the highest mammal population in the country after the southern state of Karnataka. Assam has an elephant area of 15,050 square kilometers.
With the expansion of tea plantations, the elephant’s habitats are increasingly shrinking, hindering the migration route of these animals.
Wild animals come down from the hills searching for food but often stray into tea gardens and rice fields, destroying crops, causing conflicts with humans.
In order to save their crops from the ‘elephant trunk,’ many farmers have erected electric fences to drive cattle into the tea garden, but this leads to injuries and even de.aths.
At least 761 people and 249 elephants have been killed in the conflict since 2010.
However, Tenzing has created a space specifically for elephants.
He created a five-hectare buffer zone on the outskirts of his tea garden without a drainage system so that “no calves would fall into it.”
He lets the elephants roam freely in the buffer zone, without using pesticides or chemical fertilizers that can be poisonous to elephants and adding vegetation such as bamboo, cork, jackfruit that elephants like to eat the most.
“The elephants don’t eat tea leaves, but they do damage the trees when they stray into the gardens in search of food,” Bodosa said. If they are scared by humans, they will run away, and entire crops will be damaged under their weight.
“I realized that we could avoid any damage to crops and feed the elephants by growing their favorite foods.
“We have planted bamboo, bananas, and jackfruit in the buffer zone of the tea garden. The elephants love to eat these plants and do not need to enter the tea garden.
“The best part is, they are brilliant, so if they start to enter the garden, they will carefully walk on the tracks that the workers use to pluck the tea leaves, avoiding any damage to the plants.”
Bodosa has even trained 25,000 farmers at its tea farm to cultivate organically and create forests for wildlife.
Now he also runs a tea estate tourism, where one can only see deer, elk, bear, wild boar, rabbit, mongoose, peacock, hornbill, robin, sparrow, and sunbird, besides the elephants.