Bhubaneswar, Oct 5:
Diseases such as anthrax have claimed more elephants in the state than poaching since 2000. While the number of elephant deaths due to poaching reported from 13 districts in Orissa has declined since 2000, deaths caused by unknown reasons have risen, said a wildlife expert.
DGP (Training) and wild life expert Binoy Kumar Behera, whose PhD thesis in 2013 was on “Elephant deaths in Orissa – Targeted Poaching and Collateral Killing,” told Orissa POST that the state’s elephants, once mentioned in Chanakya’s ‘Arthashastra’ as the most ideal animal for military campaigns because of their strength, are now increasingly falling prey to unknown diseases. Studies by wildlife experts backed by photographic evidences, he said, have documented that since 2000, 23 per cent of the state’s elephants died due to diseases, mainly anthrax, while poaching and unknown reasons claimed 18 per cent and 15 per cent deaths respectively.
“The existing practice of burying the dead elephant’s bodies instead of burning could be one of the reasons behind the spread of anthrax. Scientific studies have revealed that anthrax germs were found to be active even after 50 years and the disease could contract other animals that eat grass grown near the carcass,” said Behera. He urged more research to be undertaken to find out the real reasons behind these deaths.
Behera also said that circumstantial evidences have pointed to the nexus between Maoists and professional hunters as a major reason behind deaths of elephants reported from militant-infested areas. He said integration of wildlife management and security measures could end this crisis.
Increasing man-elephant conflicts have resulted in the death of about 700 people and elephants each in the state since 2000, said Behera. Elephants have been increasingly attacking villagers and destroying their crops due to the non-availability of food in forests, he said.
Connecting the state’s 14 elephant corridors with forests of neighboring West Bengal and Jharkhand could help in easy movement of the pachyderms, said Behera. He also said victims of elephant attacks should be given compensation amounts immediately to avoid resentment among people.
“Creation of dedicated elephant corridors and growing more bamboo in forests could minimise human-elephant conflicts. Bamboo forests in the state declined from about 17,000 sq km in 2005 to 10,000 sq km at present, adversely affecting the food supply of the jumbos, who spend about 15 hours every day only in eating,” said former chief forest conservator Debabrata Swain. The forest department has found the presence of elephant poachers from north-east states operating in Orissa’s forests. The Crime Branch arrested some of the poachers last year from Mayurbhanj district.