The Asian elephant population in the State remains stable since 2008. There is neither an increase nor decrease in their population, a census conducted in the four southern States in May last year reveals.
A synchronised population estimate of elephants in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka was done last year by the respective State Forest Departments with the help of wildlife research organisations.
The census was done over three days. On the first day, sighting of animals was recorded, on the second day dung counting was done and on the final day the animals sighted near water bodies were recorded. A total of 4,000 elephants were living in the State, the census revealed.
Though there were 19 elephant deaths between January and June this year in Sathyamangalam Forest Division alone, the mortality was not considered high. The deaths were natural and did not account for even one-tenth of the population. Anyway, had the deaths not occurred, survival for the herd would have been difficult and also it would have led to man-animal conflict. Moreover, the division experienced dry spell after January this year due to which water and feed availability were restricted to a few areas. Forest Department sources said weak and feeble animals would get eliminated during such severe dry conditions, which was natural.
Raman Sukumar, Chairman, Centre for Environmental Sciences, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, who is an expert on Asian elephants, said any wildlife population would experience fluctuations in mortality, which depended on a number of external environmental factors, such as rainfall, as well as the prevalence of parasites and diseases.
Among elephants, the death rate clearly increased during a drought year, but would decline when normal rainfall conditions returned. In his opinion, this was a way of natural correction to population growth.
Asian elephants typically produce a calf every 4-5 years on an average. At this birth rate, a death rate of about 5 per cent of individuals in the herds could still ensure a stable population. Thus, at Satyamangalam, one could expect a stable population even if about 25 elephants died each year.
The death of 8-10 elephants even over a short period was not cause for alarm unless it was due to a disease, epidemic or illegally killed. The year 2012 witnessed a severe drought in southern India and therefore an above-average death rate was expected.
R.J. Ranjit Daniels of CareEarth, a Chennai-based biodiversity research organisation, said animals largely confined to reserves tend to be stressed due to higher densities created by artificial boundaries and lack of opportunities for natural migration.
Deaths due to accidents and starvation or dehydration were induced by lack of adequate habitat and the freedom to migrate. Under these circumstances what needed to be reviewed was the design of the protected reserve and whether it would suit the target species of wild animals, which was a huge shortfall in the country’s wildlife conservation efforts, he opined.