Forest minister Bikram Keshari Arukh on Tuesday admitted in the assembly that growing urbanization, forest fire, forest land encroachment and industrialization are responsible for elephants moving out of their habitats for food.
Responding to a question asked by Jharsuguda MLA Naba Kishor Das, Arukh told the house that since the elephants are leaving their habitats due to shortage of food, the forest department has launched plantation drive of trees the leaves of which the pachyderms eat. “We are planting sapling of species such as bamboo, banyan, jackfruit, cashewnut, ‘gambhari’ and ‘kumbhi’. We are also digging water bodies to store more water,” said the minister. He said between 2004 and 2015, his department has alienated 18,595.50 hectare forest land for different purposes.
Sources said the Chandaka wildlife sanctuary on the outskirts of the city has borne the brunt of urbanization more than any other sanctuary in the state with real estate projects being set up close to the sanctuary’s buffer area. Several educational institutions, hotels and residential complexes have also mushroomed in the last one decade there.
In 2012-13 elephant census, the wildlife wing recorded presence of 23 elephants in Chandaka sanctuary but in 2014-15, it came down to eight. In every two-year elephant census, their number is falling in the sanctuary.
Replying to another question on elephant deaths asked by Badachana MLA Amar Prasad Satapathy, the minister said the state has lost 393 elephants in last five years till September 20. Elephant tracker squads have been formed in the forests and sanctuaries having elephant concentration. To check poaching, anti-smuggling and anti-poaching squads have also been formed, said the minister.
The last census put the elephant population at 1954, an increase of 30 elephants compared to 2012-13 census. The wildlife officials say the population increased despite death of 73 elephants every year. According to sources, on an average, 46 elephants died between 2000 and 2010. But, since 2010, the average yearly casualty rate of the jumbos has touched 73.