Elephant census: Focus not just on numbers, but sex ratio too (Karnataka, India)


The Hindu

Date Published
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The four-day exercise to enumerate elephants, which concluded on Friday, will not just throw up estimates on the elephant population but will also crucially look at the sex ratio of the pachyderms, which will give scientific insights on the future of the species here.

Since May 16, over 530 volunteers and 90 resource persons have been taking part in workshops and scouring the terrain across 17 contiguous divisions spanning the forests of Bannerghatta National Park to Bhadra Tiger Reserve. This has resulted in a robust collection of data through sample block count, line transect method and dung count.

Dileep Kumar Das, director, Project Elephant, told The Hindu that in addition to population estimation, wildlife scientists will assess their population structure. This includes sex ratio besides the age of the adult male and female elephants in an herd, and this will be based on the data obtained from direct sightings.

The sex ratio has been a matter of concern. For instance, in the last iteration in 2012, the sex ratio was estimated at 1 male to every 2.4 female elephants; while it was worse in the adult population at 1:2.7. The declining male population is explained as selective killing of male elephants during conflict situations, poaching for ivory tusks or through electrocution when they come in contact with electricity lines.

Wildlife biologists believe the elephant population is stable. If this is corroborated by the 2017 data, it will be a scientific refutation to the argument of a few politicians that human-elephant conflict has risen owing to increase in elephant population, particularly tuskers.

The synchronised census are held once in five years, and in the 2012 exercise the population of elephants in the State was estimated to be in a range of 5,648 in the lower limit and 6,488 in the upper limit. The actual numbers were pegged at 6,072.

Census in Kodagu

Elephant census was conducted in the coffee estates of Kodagu for the first time, in view of the growing incidents of human-elephant conflict in the region. Nine lives were lost to elephant attacks in the district during 2016-17.

Though there are no baseline studies to assess the number of elephants straying into estates, the figures varied from 50 to 200, said Manoj Kumar, Conservator of Forests, Kodagu circle.

He said only 30% of the land in Kodagu district had forest cover and this included parts of Nagarahole National Park. “The remaining 70% is estates, and it was thought fit to conduct a census in coffee estates too,” he added.

About 100 volunteers had fanned out across estates and forests, of whom 50 were roped in from the College of Forestry, Ponnampet.

The 2012 census

Sanctuary  /  Number of Elephants

Bandipur  1697

Nagarhole  1320

BRT Wildlife  480

Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary  255

Bhadra  188

Kollegal  278

Madikeri Territorial Division  273

Madikeri Wildlife Division  192

Ramanagaram  169

Virajpet  65

Hassan  75

Hunsur  70

Bannerghatta  78

Mysuru wildlife  51

Anshi-Dandeli  47