GPS to track elephant movements in central-eastern landscape (India)


Nikhil M. Ghankear, DNA

Date Published

In a bid to study the migration pattern of elephants and to reduce human-elephant conflict in the central-eastern landscape of the country, the Union environment and forest ministry is mulling GPS tracking of pachyderms in the region, ministry officials said. The idea was discussed in a meeting, called by the ministry on Thursday to formulate a regional management plan for tackling human-elephant conflict. Chief wildlife wardens from West Bengal, Jharkhand, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and independent experts participated in the meeting.

Between 2005-06, elephant movement was tracked in north Bengal by Indian Institute of Science. Before that between 2001-2004, the World Wildlife Fund used a VHF radio-collar for tracking elephants in Kerala. “Unlike big cats, elephants are not territorial and migrate long distances. Only 20-23% of their migration happens through protected areas such as national parks and sanctuaries while they traverse outside these areas rest of time, bringing them in close contact with human habitations,” said a senior ministry official.

According to ministry officials, the central-eastern landscape sees the maximum conflict despite having a low concentration of elephant population. As per official data, the central-eastern landscape accounts for just above 10 per cent of the elephant population but almost 70 per cent of human deaths due to elephant attacks are recorded from this region. In south Bengal alone, where an estimated 120 elephants are found, around 70 deaths were recorded last year. Odisha, West Bengal and Assam records high casualties due to conflict each year, official data shows. While West Bengal saw 89 human deaths last year, Odisha recorded 64 deaths.

Independent expert Raman Sukumar, who participated in Thursday’s meeting said that the conflict in central-eastern landscape has been neglected and both short term and long term projects were required to reduce it. “We need detailed mapping of landscapes and habitats where elephants move along with the disturbances. Using GPS tracking will reveal their movement across seasons and indicate reasons behind their movement near human habitations,” said Sukumar, professor, Centre for Ecological Sciences

He added, “We also have historical data on dispersal of elephants and that should be put to use for reducing conflict and identifying elephant corridors.”