There seems to be just no respite from the news of elephant deaths in the Coimbatore region. The death toll of jumbos has been on a steady rise in the last few months leaving many animal lovers and environmentalists perplexed. This year, the toll has already increased to 8 after a two-year-old calf was found dead in Sirumugai forest recently. Only a few days ago, a ten-year-old elephant died after getting trapped in mud near Sembukkarai tribal settlement and a 20-year-old female elephant died without getting enough fodder in the Sirumugai forest range.
“Nature has its own way of cleaning up the environment. In summer, there is scarcity of food and water and hence, only the fit will survive. The weak usually cannot withstand the condition and thus fails to make it through the heat. The process is natural and paves way for a stronger generation. But, what’s disturbing is that we are making the situation worse. Today, elephants are dying at an alarming rate,” says Mohammad Saleem of Environment Conservation Group. “K Kalidas of Osai, an NGO, says the increase in death rate comes as no surprise. “Forests in the region haven’t received adequate rain and hence, there is not enough fodder for them. Elephants are a species that consumes up to 200 kg of food every day. When they do not get adequate nutrition due to lack of fodder and water, they grow weak and eventually die. We have reached a stage where we cannot prevent elephant deaths.”
“When the annual death of elephants increases to more than 2 per cent, it is a reason to worry as the reproductive rate of elephants is extremely low,” explains Saleem. He adds, “We are commercially exploiting the forests and the animals are dying too quickly. Everyone including the public living in the city is to be blamed. By digging deep bore wells and chopping off trees, we are taking away the reserves from the forests as well. We should always remember that after the forests, it’s the turn of human beings to bear the brunt. The temperature has reached a record high and it’s only going to increase as time passes by.”
Kalidas explains that it’s high-time we started looking at long-term measures. “We have to begin with removing invasive weeds like Lantana Camara (wild sage) from the elephant grazing area. It is said that a substantial part of the forest area is covered by the weed. Once we remove it, it will aid the growth of fodder for elephant. We have to address climate change at war footing by protecting the existing forest cover and ensuring the elephant’s migratory pattern and routes are not disturbed. Elephants usually find their food near water reservoirs in summer and we should not encroach the area even for agriculture.”Saleem sums it up, “It’s time the public, NGOs and government officials worked hand in hand. Instead of making the situation worse, we should help pave the way for a stronger generation. To aid this, we should prevent the forests from drying up and protect ground water and natural reserves.”