Destined to die: Diseases count more than poaching (Bhubaneswar, India)


Siba Mohanty, The New Indian Express

Date Published

Their population on the rise, elephants of Odisha continue to face a
harsh reality of survival. More than poachers, it is the burden of
disease which has emerged as a worry for the State Wildlife Wing.

In the last five months and a half, as many as 36 elephants have died
in the State and at least 14 of the deaths – about 40 per cent – are
caused by diseases, according to information by the Wildlife Wing.

In the whole of last year – between April 2015 and March 2016 – the
State reported 76 elephant deaths out of which 20 were caused by
diseases. In the last five years, the current year taken into account,
319 elephants have died out of which 81 have fallen prey to diseases
which is higher than the figures of poaching (24) and electrocution
(40) taken together. There are three major elephant habitats in the
State – Angul, Baripada and Sambalpur circles. “If you superimpose the
disctoms maps on the regions where elephant deaths have occurred, it
would be clear that most of the electrocution deaths – deliberate and
accidental – are concentrated in the CESU area,” points out an
officer. Similarly, if one superimposes the map showing the deaths
caused by diseases, it points at Angul and Baripada circles. In
pockets of Angul, Athmalik, Dhenkanal divisions, it is the foot and
mouth disease (FMD) which has spread its tentacles. In Baripada circle
though, the deadly anthrax has raised its ugly head and has refused to
go away.

A female elephant and a calf found dead in Gudugudia range of Karanjia
Division last week were diagnosed to have contracted anthrax.

Reliable sources in the Animal Diseases Research Institute (ADRI)
point at existence of anthrax spores in Gudugudia and Dukura ranges
where similar deaths have been reported in the past two years.

“We have reasons to believe the anthrax spores have been carried from
Jharkhand and deposited along the corridor tracks as well as at places
where elephants have fallen victim,” says Joint Director of ADRI Dr
Loknath Behera. A water body located in the area where the last two
deaths occurred is believed to have been contaminated and restrictions
for humans and domestic animals have been imposed now.

A major reason behind the rising burden of diseases is attributed to
increased exposure of elephants to domestic cattle population in and
around the jumbo corridors. “A drop in electrocution also coincides
with a rising incidence of death by diseases,” says an officer.

Chief Wildlife Warden Sidhanta Das says though the causes are natural,
cattle immunisation and awareness among the local populace are the
only methods to contain the trend.