Pilot project to reduce elephant births under consideration: West Bengal (India)


Dhananjay Mahapatra, Times of India

Date Published
NEW DELHI: The West Bengal government has informed the Supreme Court that it was only evaluating the feasibility and suitability of a WWF-India pilot project proposing administering contraceptive drugs on wild elephants in north Bengal to manage their rapidly increasing population. 
However, it denied the allegation that it was practicing this to reduce the elephant population and, as a result, decrease the number of elephants getting knocked down by trains. 
A bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra had on September 2 ordered the West Bengal government not to implement any contraceptive plan to impede the natural reproduction cycle of wild elephants or any wild animal for that matter. 
The order was passed on a PIL filed by Shakti Prasad Nayak. On the suggestion of petitioner’s counsel Sanjib Panigrahi, the court had asked the Centre to explore deploying a radar system used by defence forces for early detection of elephant herds near railway tracks and warning train drivers about it to help reduce fatal accidents. 
In response to the order, the West Bengal government said it had received a proposal from WWF-India to test the efficacy of innovative elephant management measures and to identify “early warning system” for human-elephant conflict prevention. 
“WWF-India has also proposed a pilot project to find out the possibilities of suitability of immunocontraception drug on Asian elephants which has been successfully used on African elephants as an established population management tool in Africa,” the state government said. 
“Currently, there exists no such drug or method for Asian elephants which can be used for immunocontraception. This proposed project is purely scientific research and has no link with elephant deaths on railway track,” it clarified. 
Though no decision was taken on the pilot project, the West Bengal government said, “It is felt that there is need for serious scientific research on the subject so as to keep pace with the latest advancement in the matter worldwide and to be in preparedness to deal with human-elephant conflict, ensuring elephant conservation. The wild elephant population in north Bengal has increased from 175 in 1989 to 529 in 2010.” 
The Union government in its affidavit said it was open to the court’s suggestion to use modern technological methods – wireless sensors and e-eye – depending on their success during implementation of pilot projects. It said it had also decided to impose a speed restriction of 25 kmph on trains in all identified elephant habitats. 
It also agreed to construct under-passes and ramps on identified elephant corridors to facilitate their smooth movement.