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Kinley checks his fields in the morning from his watch hut
Kinley checks his fields in the morning from his watch hut

The night guards of Laphuna

It is drizzling and quiet in Laphuna village. Farmers have retired to bed.

Above the small village in Lobesa, the lush paddy fields laden with grains sway in the cool night breeze. The paddy would be ready for harvest in a month’s time. In the middle of the field, on a bund, farmer Kinley is readying for the night.

Four bamboo pillars tied together and two planks laid on it, is his guardhouse. It is rickety, but Kinley, 43, is least bothered. He is there not to sleep. There are wild boars and Kinley wants to ensure that he reaps the fruits of his hard work before the boars.

By 11pm, Kinley is all settled. From his grimy rucksack he pulls out a torch, a rechargeable bulb, and a well-polished yak horn. A lid of an oil barrel hangs on one of the bamboo pillars. It makes the loudest noise when banged repeatedly with an iron rod. Kinley builds a fire using a sack of sawdust. On it he keeps an old motorcycle tyre. The light drizzle is no match to the burning tyre. Kinley flashes his torch on and inspects the field. “They will be here soon,” he says, as he prepares a doma.

There is no sign of boars. But Kinley is convinced it will come. He clears his throat and pours his lungs out to make the loudest sound in the middle of the night. His voice echoes from the surrounding hills.

A minute later, he gets a response. There is another farmer camped above his village. It’s a signal that they are alert.

At this time of the year, farmers in Laphuna, Punakha, like many others farmers across the country are guarding their fields from wild animals. Every year, boars target paddy, maize and potatoes.

Laphuna village is not remote. It is located about half a kilometre from the busy, sleepless Lobesa town.  The presence of boars makes it look remote and far-flung.

Kinley is on guard because he lost a substantial portion of the harvest to the boars last year. He grows red rice and relies on it for food and cash income. “The difference is huge if the crop is not damaged by boars,” he says.

It is only the start of a busy season for farmers like Kinley. The boar attack, farmers said, increases as paddy ripens. It is going to be a long autumn for Kinley and his fellow farmers.

Above Laphuna, in Tserina village, Kinley’s friend, Gyeltshen has not slept for nights. Closest to the forest, his fields are the first targets. Kinley and Gyelthsen are sharing their experience over the phone. “Last night I felt asleep and there were three close to my guard house,” says Gyeltshen. On Friday night, Gyeltshen brought additional materials to guard. The tarpaulin made guardhouse was connected to electricity and he brought a tape recorder to blast music at full volume. The boars attacked his neighbour’s fields.

 

Boars on the move

Wild boar attack is not new, but farmers say they are experiencing more attacks. Farmers reason this to boars targeting fields not protected by electric fencing. With paddy fields closer to the forest like those in Nahi in Wangduephodrang and Toebisa in Punakha well protected by electric fences, the boars farmers believe, are looking for new pastures. “The attack has increased,” says Kinley who said his friends chased 11 boars a fortnight ago. Below Kinley’s fields, a farmer who had cultivated fast ripening paddy harvested her paddy to save it from the boars.

Farmers are also quick to attribute the increase to so many reasons including superstition like choeten vandalism in the gewog. They are not sure if natural predators are on the decline, but said that there are lot of disturbances in the forest, which is forcing the wild out to attack crops. The Barp gup, Passang Dorji, on being told about predators said he had never heard of farmers losing cattle to wild dog attacks. Wild dog, locally called phaw, are one of the predators of wild boars. Gyeltshen has not seen a wild dog in the recent past.

The gup said there were also reports of boar attack in the paddy fields near the famous Chimi Lhakhang. The gup attributes this to paddy fields in Laptsakha and Talo, two nearby villages resorting to electric fencing. Farmers are also reporting the presence of boars in fields below Lobesa town. “Wherever there is a corridor, the boars explore them in search of food,” says a farmer, Kinzang.

Laphuna farmers said they reported the increasing attack to forestry officials informally. So far, they have not seriously sought help. “We are planning to go in a group and complain officially,” says Kinley.

Gup Passang Dorji said that a plan to install electric fencing was discussed in the past, during the former gup’s tenure. But the farmers couldn’t decide on the plan. “Some wanted it while some were against the idea,” he said.  However, the gup assured that the plan for electric fencing is included in the 12th Plan. “If farmers are ready, there is budget earmarked,” he said.

 

New ideas

In the mean time, farmers have resorted to burning tyres and homemade repellents. The idea of burning tyres came from a veteran farmer in Toebisa village. “It works,” says Namgay, another farmer. “I think it is the pungent smell that keeps away the boars.”

A Laphuna farmer tried a new repellent. He soaked rags in oil waste and lit them like a lamp. It lasts for hours and it is easy to make. The idea is using the foul smell to keep the boars at bay. If the new idea works, Laphuna farmers have no dearth of old tyres and waste oil. Blow the village are few automobile workshops.

Farmers are aware that they can kill the boars if they attack their crops, but are lost of ideas. “We need guns to shoot them,” says Kinley who is against killing. A neighbour had laid a trap, but filed miserably when the boar escaped with the pole where they had strung the rope to hold the boar. The boar dragging the pole damaged a neighbour’s field of cauliflower and cabbage seedlings.

These days, when Laphuna farmers meet, they talk politics and wild boars. They recall one political party, Bhutan Kuen-Nyam party, who pledged to look into human-wildlife conflict. “But the party is out,” says Kinley. “I don’t remember if the two parties contesting for the general round promised helping farmers like us.”

Farmers will have time to question the candidates when they visit their village. For now, Kinley will continue guarding his fields.

Ugyen Penjore  

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