Mortality records (1979–2011) shed light on threats to Asian Elephants Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758 (Mammalia: Proboscidea: Elephantidae) in Nilgiris, southern India
We compiled records of 291 elephant deaths over a 33-year period (1979-2011) from the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and the reserved forests of Nilgiri North and South divisions of southern India from the databases of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, the Wildlife Protection Society of India and the Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association. We tested the null hypothesis that the causes of elephant deaths would not differ with time, by gender and with level of protection. We classified records by gender and age: adults (>= 15 years), sub adults (5-15 years), juveniles (>1-<5) and calves (<= 1). We organised records over 3-decade periods. The database consisted of 209 adults (>= 15 years), 27 sub adults (5-15 years), 33 juveniles (>1-<5) and 22 calves (<= 1). MTR had the maximum records (148) followed by NND (138) and NSD (4). The median age of death was 20 years for adult males and 30 years for adult females. Mean survival time for adult males was 22.45 years, and 31.84 for females. Poaching was responsible for the majority of deaths (40%), particularly of male elephants (82%), and unknown causes (31%) for the majority of female deaths (66%). Human-caused deaths, which included poaching and some accidents, averaged 72% between 1979 and 2000 and decreased to 22% during 2001-2011. Deaths due to unknown causes and diseases increased from 28% in 1979-1989 to 69% in 2001-2011. Relative to estimated population size, deaths attributed to poaching was higher in NND (47%) than in MTR (34%). The causes of death differed by region. In conclusion, the elephant population in the Nilgiris is at risk and needs stringent protection; the mortality database should be systematised; forensic capabilities upgraded, and detection of carcasses improved.