Hunger and thirst haunt wildlife

March 26, 2004 12:00 am | Updated 12:00 am IST - KOZHIKODE

KOZHIKODE, MARCH 25 . Thirsty elephants dying of dehydration near dried-up waterholes; a wild pig killed by poacher's bullets. The Wayanad wildlife sanctuary, reeling under severe drought conditions, has been witness to such shocking scenes ever since a severe summer set in nearly three months ago.

The deaths of protected wild animals, including six elephants, have given rise to grave concern among nature lovers as well as the Forest Department.

Migration of wild animals into the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary from the drier forests in neighbouring Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has deepened the crisis caused by water and food scarcity. Since a large number of elephants have crossed over to the sanctuary in search of water from across the border, more elephants are feared to be in danger. To add to the misery of wildlife, a number of waterholes and usually perennial streams have dried up at a time when the demand for water and fodder has gone up. The threat to wildlife from hunger and thirst has assumed alarming proportions.

Post-mortem examination on bodies pachyderms conducted recently has pinpointed dehydration and lack of sufficient food as the principal cause of their death.

In the first three months of this year alone the Forest Department has reported as many as six elephant deaths, and of them four occurred in this month alone.

Elephants dying in forests is not uncommon. Last year as many as 22 elephants died in the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary. Almost an equal number of deaths were recorded two years ago. This year two of the six elephants that died were cubs.

Speaking to The Hindu the Wayanad Wildlife Warden, G. Phanindra Kumar Rao, said though elephants dying in forests was not uncommon, the deaths in this dry season had been more. Four elephants had died in March alone. In the past the deaths had been uniformly distributed throughout the year.

The migration of elephants from neighbouring forests in search of water, which is a common feature during summer months, has greatly increased the demand for water in Wayanad forests. Almost all the artificial waterholes for wildlife prepared by the Forest Department and voluntary agencies have dried up in the scorching summer heat. Though the department fills these up by transporting water by tanker lorries, the water made available there has not been enough for wildlife to quench their thirst.

The bodies of two of the elephants which died this year were found very near to an artificial water source, indicating they were desperately searching for water when they collapsed and died.

Though it is death of elephants that has triggered public concern, other species of wildlife had also died in the dry spell which began in January this year. One old leopard also died this month. As many as 10 bisons have died since January, one of them in an attack by a tiger. Other casualties reported were two sambar deer, one in an attack by tiger, one bear believed to be due to old age, one spotted deer and one wild pig which succumbed to poacher's bullets. These deaths were reported from Kurichiad, Muthanga, Bathery and Tholpetty ranges of the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary.

Only rains can bring relief to thirsty wild animals. After a long spell of drought-like conditions, many places in Wayanad received good rainfall last night. But it was no more than a drizzle inside the forests. Residents in Wayanad point out that one short spell of rainfall is not enough. Copious rainfall - that is the best thing that can happen to the district's parched farms, dry forests and thirsty people and animals.

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