Endangered water buffaloes have been turning up dead in the fields and farms of Kusaha in west Sunsari. In February alone, three of the rare animals were found, having been electrocuted to death. Such electrocution seems to be a form of 'revenge killing', say officials at Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve.
Farmers, in order to protect their farms against rampaging buffaloes, have taken to stringing up naked live wire around their plots. The buffaloes get entangled in these and die. Locals are defiant and say that they never receive compensation from the government when their fields are torn up by water buffaloes.
Although the penalty for killing an endangered water buffalo is 10 years imprisonment and up to Rs 50,000 in fines, no farmer has yet been formally charged. Officials here fear that taking one farmer into custody will provoke the entire community into opposition, and hinder other efforts to help conserve the animals.
There are only 19 water buffalo deaths officially recorded since 2000, but locals estimate the actual number is far higher. Some say that last year alone 14 corpses were found. According to a 2004 survey, the 175 sq km Koshi Tappu Wildlife Area reserve is home to 159 water buffaloes, 87 female and 72 male.
This is a warning sign, as the female population needs to be five times the male to maintain population levels. An adult male water buffalo can impregnate up to five females. When there aren't enough, the males fight amongst themselves, leading to injuries and even death. The reproduction rate for Koshi Tappu water buffaloes remains at a low 0.3 percent.
In addition to the live wire fences and low female-to-male ratio, the number of water buffaloes is also decreasing due to the directed use of poison and lack of grazing areas inside the reserve.