Elephants sighted at unprecedented 4,000 feet in Uttarakhand hills (Nainital District, India)


Vineet Upadhyay, The Times of India

Date Published

NAINITAL: The unprecedented sighting of elephants in Jeolikot, 18 km from Nainital town and at an altitude of 1,219 metres (nearly 4,000 feet), has left residents worried. The forest department is patrolling the area and has cautioned residents to avoid confrontation with the pachyderms. Last year, camera trap images had shown a tiger prowling in Askot, in the upper reaches of Pithoragarh, at altitudes of over 12,000 feet, which is unusual for tigers and is the normal habitat of snow leopards.

Anil Kumar Singh, a specialist in man-elephant conflict, who is currently working with World Wildlife Federation, India in the Terai Arc Landscape, which comprises several protected eco-systems in India and Nepal, told TOI, “The elephant is a long-range animal and tends to explore new habitats if any sort of disturbance is caused in its current habitat. In this case, the reason might be the disturbances in the Gaula elephant corridor.”

Experts pointed out that in Arunachal Pradesh the animal has been sighted at altitudes of 10,000 feet in Eagle’s Nest Wildlife Sanctuary. However, they confirmed that in Uttarakhand it is for the first time that elephants have been seen at such altitudes. The animals, they said, can climb to high altitudes, but cannot manage steep slopes. In the hills, they prefer areas with gentle inclines and abundant food.

AG Ansari, a conservationist from Uttarakhand said, “Various factors such as laying of railway tracks and road networks disturb elephants’ habitat and they tend to move to other areas. But in this case the main reason is disturbance in the Gaula elephant corridor. An average elephant eats 70-80 kg of vegetation in 18-20 hours, which explains its need for food. And when a corridor is disturbed the animal has no option other than looking for food somewhere else.”

The Gaula elephant corridor stretches around 20 km from Haldwani forest division to Terai central forest division. Uttarakhand has 11 elephant corridors at present, of which many are under pressure due to urbanization, encroachment and human interventions in the natural habitat of animals. According to the last census in 2015, Uttarakhand has a total elephant population of 1,797.

Parag Madhukar Dhakate, conservator of forests, western circle said, “Migration of elephants to such altitudes is new to us in the state. There may be several reasons for this, including exploration for food and habitat. We are maintaining vigil and patrolling the area and have cautioned residents to avoid any sort of conflict.”

In 2015, the Union environment ministry set up a panel to study elephant migration, aimed at preventing human-elephant conflict, which results in around 400 human deaths every year. India started Project Elephant in 1992 to protect Asian elephants, their habitat and corridors and address man-elephant conflict.