Need of the hour: A comprehensive study of elephant habits and habitat (India)


P Sangeethai, Times of India

Date Published

They say there’s no forest without elephants. Elephants are a key species and play an important role in maintaining the bio-diversity of the forests. They help in the growth of certain species of flora as they create gaps in the vegetation and allow new plants to grow. Elephant dung is a reservoir of seeds that aid the growth of new varieties of plants. The mighty jumbos are also the ones that lay roads in a forest and identify sources of water. On World Elephant Day, CT looks at the conservation measures that are being undertaken for the pachyderm after a series of jumbo deaths in the region.

Coimbatore region, an elephant hub

The Coimbatore region is surrounded by forests and hence, it’s a common sight to spot elephants in the outskirts of the city. K Kalidas of OSAI, a Kovai-based NGO, says, “Around 4,000 odd elephants are estimated to be present in Tamil Nadu, out of which around 150 elephants are present in the Coimbatore region. They use the corridor to cross over to Sathyamangalam, Mannarkadu and Palakkad. On an average, an elephant travels between 70 and 700 sq kms annually and this is predominantly in search of food. Since elephants are constantly on the move, their census is synchronised and is taken at the same time during the year across the country.” Echoing his thoughts is Mohammad Saleem of Environment Conservation Group. He notes, “At any given point of time, there are at least 120 resident elephants in the region and are frequently spotted at Madukkarai, Karamadai and Periyanaickenpalayam. Some of these elephants use the region as a pathway to their next destination.”

Elephant camp, a major draw

The Tamil Nadu government organises an annual rejuvenation and holiday camp for elephants from temples. Interestingly, the camp is held in the banks of Bhavani River at Thekkampatti, Mettupalayam. The jumbos are fed with a rejuvenating diet (special diet chart is drawn based on the pachyderm’s gender, age, height and weight) are taken out for a walk, provided a scrub bath and a medical checkup at the camp. Kumki tamed (elephants) are also brought here, which are deployed to keep wild elephants away from human habitations.

Be responsible for elephants

However, the situation of human-animal conflict seems to be rising steadily in the region and elephants are constantly disturbed by human intrusion. “Elephant spotting is common at Thadagam Road and when people spot jumbos, they often taunt them by trying to take pictures or throwing bananas at them. Even deep inside the forest, they are often chased by tourists and others. This disturbs the jumbos. We as human beings need to be more responsible towards the animal,” says Kalidas.

Long-term conservation measures, a must

The Forest Department with the help of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) had recently installed thermal and motion sensor cameras at Madukkarai range to monitor elephant movement at crossing paths. “Its high time we worked on mitigation strategies to prevent accidents of pachyderms in human settlements. For this, we need to do a detailed study of the wildlife movement areas and work on strategies,” says D Boominathan, landscape co-ordinator, WWF. Saleem adds, “We are suggesting an underpass and barricades for tuskers, so that they do not get hit by the trains and also, prevent them from entering the agricultural land.”

In the meantime, environment K Mohan Raj says that NGOs have also filed a case against the Forest authorities under Section 55, The Wildlife (Protection) act 1972 after the recent elephant deaths. “The case has been filed against one elephant death and we will approach the judicial magistrate if they fail to respond to it. But the sensors and awareness programmes among farmers and students are only a short-term solution. The biggest drawback is that we lack a comprehensive study of the animal and the region, which is the need of the hour. The study should be done by experts in the field, like bio-scientists. Unfortunately, our bureaucratic setup is not conducive to conducting a study of such detailed nature.”

World Elephant Day special

Nevertheless, NGOs are gearing up with special programmes on the occasion. “We are planning to reach out to the students through a special programme called ‘Understanding elephants’. This is an attempt to explain the importance of the animal in maintaining bio-diversity,” says Kalidas. In the meantime, environmentalists in Coimbatore are holding a special meeting today where they will talk about the recent elephant deaths and the ways to curb them and come up with possible solutions. The event is open to the public.