The Kabini backwaters, which has always been a paradise for elephants during scorching summers, is a let down for wildlife this year owing to extreme drought.
Though the animals, especially elephants and other herbivores, continue to be spotted near the backwaters, their number is negligible compared to what it used to be in previous years. Also, the size of the elephant herds are small.
Large herds of elephants would flock to the backwaters not only for water but also for fodder in the form of fresh shoots of grass that would cloak the moist backwater bed as the shoreline would gradually recede during summer.
There was a clock work precision to this cycle – of the arrival of migratory animals and availability of fodder and water during crunch time during March through May. This was a regular annual feature ever since the Kabini reservoir was commissioned in the early 1970s.
The congregation of animals would peak during late March and last through April or early May and the backwaters would harbour the highest density of wildlife anywhere in Asia.
But the water level in the Kabini reservoir ebbed as early as February this year and the backwater shoreline receded considerably owing to drought, continuous discharge from the reservoir to meet the State’s obligation to the neighbouring State besides meeting the drinking water requirements in the region.
D. Rajkumar of Wildlife Conservation Foundation, Mysuru, told The Hindu that as many as 250 to 300 elephants could be counted near the backwaters during peak summer till a few years ago. But the size of the herds have reduced.
“There would be scores of elephant herds some with as many as 30 to 40 members. But this year, the number of the herds were less and their size was also small,” he added. “Drought has forced the outward migration of elephants towards the moist deciduous portions of Nagarahole and Wayanad and the foothills of Ooty and sightings in these regions have increased,” he said, pointing out that it was corroborated by wildlife activists and forest officials in those places.
The Kabini backwaters borders both Nagarahole and Bandipur and hence is a pit stop for animals for fodder and water migrating from dry forests to the moist regions during summer. But this year, the disruption in the cycle has forced the animals to disperse as a result of which there are less animals near the backwaters.