‘Elephant Man’ Ajay Desai passes away in Belagavi

He was a pioneer in the study of elephant movements using radio collar and a consultant to some State governments

Published - November 21, 2020 01:00 am IST - Belagavi

Elephant expert Ajay Desai (right) with a forest guard.

Elephant expert Ajay Desai (right) with a forest guard.

Field biologist and wildlife conservation expert Ajay Adrushyappa Desai passed away in Belagavi on Thursday night. He was 62.

Family sources said he suffered a heart attack in his sleep. Mr. Desai is survived by wife and two children.

Fondly known as “Elephant Man”, he spent decades in the research of species specific behaviour of Asiatic elephants. He was a consultant to World Wildlife Fund and some State governments in resolving man-animal conflicts.

Mr. Desai’s family hailed from Konnur in Bagalkot district but had settled in Belagavi decades ago. After schooling in Belagavi, he joined the Bombay Natural History as a researcher. Mr. Desai spent years studying elephant track formation and herd leadership in Mudumalai and in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Desai was a pioneer in the study of elephant movements using radio collar. His studies included problems such as elephants entering agricultural fields and pastures. Based on scientific research, he argued that deforestation and destruction of wildlife habitations were forcing elephants to come to villages and towns seeking food and water. He advocated a holistic approach towards conserving nature and wildlife, along with forest areas. He also served as chairman of the elephant expert committee of the International Union of Conservation of Nature. “He was a wildlife photographer, scholar, and a conservation activist. But more than that, he was a great human being. His passing is a great loss to the cause of wildlife conservation,” said Jaideep Siddannanavar, wildlife photographer and a long-time friend.

‘A great loss’

Mysuru Special Correspondent reports:

Conservationists and wildlife activists described Mr. Desai’s understanding of elephant behaviour and ecology as monumental.

Sanjay Gubbi, a wildlife biologist and who along with Mr. Desai, was the member of the State Board for Wildlife said he was a true conservationist by heart and stood firm for wildlife issues.

His knowledge of elephants was unfathomable and Mr. Desai’s death was a great loss to conservation, Mr. Gubbi said.

Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife First recalled working with Mr. Desai on many committees of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and how his explanation and analysis of animal behaviour in general and elephants in particular provided insight to other members of the committee to formulate policy measures.

He also gave a report to NTCA on the imperatives of further investment to reclaim the Srisailam Tiger Reserve which was recovering from naxalism.

Human-elephant conflict

He was also working on policy guidelines to mitigate human-elephant conflict under the National Elephant Action Plan (NEAP) which was to be submitted in due course and the conservation community had lost a great friend in his demise, said Mr. Bhargav.

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