Kerala’s elephant population goes up

Latest census shows a marginal increase from 2,735 listed by the last census in 2012

Preliminary results from the All India Synchronised Elephant Population Estimation released by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change on August 12 peg Kerala's elephant numbers at 3,054, the third highest among the 23 States where elephants are found. Of the four elephant reserves in Kerala, the Anamudi elephant reserve has the highest elephant density at 0.41 elephants per sq km.

According to the seventh elephant census (which lists elephant numbers based on direct sighting-based counts between 17 and 19 May this year), elephants were found to occur in 37 forest divisions in the State, and distributed across 9,670 sq km. While the Wayanad and Nilambur elephant reserves have a density of 0.25 elephants per sq km, the Periyar elephant reserve supports 0.31 elephants per sq km.

Elephant population densities (the number of individuals within a given area) are crucial baseline data that are necessary to study the dynamics of elephant populations in the wild.

While the State's current elephant population of 3,054 is a significant decrease from the census estimates in 2012 (which estimated the then elephant population to be 6,117), parallels cannot be drawn between both numbers because the estimation methodologies are different, cautions the report.

‘Dung count’ method

In 2012, elephant population estimates were based on the indirect 'dung count' method, which estimates pachyderm numbers based on elephant dung density and its distance from transects (straight lines up to 2 km along which data collectors walk), in a elephant habitat.

The rate at which dung decomposes and the frequency with which elephants defecate are factored into this data.

However, the direct 'sample block count' method in 2012 listed only 2,735 elephants in the State.

In the second method used to estimate wild elephant populations, volunteers locate elephant herds in blocks (areas between 4 and 7 sq km) and count the number of individuals, which is later used to derive elephant densities and the number.

“This is definitely comparable, and shows that the numbers of elephants has increased slightly in Kerala,” says Raman Sukumar, professor at the Indian Institute of Sciences and Director of the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, who led the team that conducted the analysis.

However, a much better picture will emerge in three months when the results from the indirect count are examined, says Sukumar. “Overall, the report is a reasonably good first cut,” he adds.

The current census lists the total number of elephants in India at 27,312. Karnataka has the highest number of elephants at 6,049, followed by Assam (5,719).

The southern region, which includes Kerala, Andaman and Nicobar, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, has the highest number of elephants (11,960) among the four regions in India.

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Printable version | May 22, 2020 1:07:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/keralas-elephant-population-goes-up/article19522596.ece

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