Coimbatore region has been battling a unique problem for the last one month. A series of elephant deaths in Western Tamil Nadu has wildlife enthusiasts, environmentalists, biologists and the public perplexed and in a state of shock. The death toll of the mighty jumbos climbed to five in the last two weeks- two died of road and train accidents, one is alleged to have died in captivity at a kraal and two of health complications. Addressing the issue, experts say…
Sudden spurt in jumbo deaths
K Kalidas of Osai, an NGO, says that elephant deaths can be classified into two- avoidable and unavoidable. The elephants that died in Sirumugai and Narasipuram were unavoidable as one was suffering from ill health and the other had developed an infection. On the other hand, the elephant that died at Varagaliyar camp in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, the one hit by a bus at Shoolagiri, and the one hit by the train at Madukkarai were avoidable. These are deaths caused due to man-made reasons.” D Boominathan, landscape co-ordinator, WWF, adds,” There are certain times during a year when the number of elephant deaths go up. For instance, it’s prevalent in summer when there is a scarcity of water and food. But when elephants get electrocuted, die in road and railway accidents; it’s a reason to worry. Mortality is a natural phenomenon and is allowed to certain extent.”
Now is a time to worry
According to Mohammad Saleem of Environment Conservation Group even the two natural deaths could have been avoided. “The mother that recently died in Narasipuram was being followed by the forest officials for a week. The animal was said to be feeble. Had they informed their higher authorities, some action could have been taken to prevent the death. Same goes with the elephant death in Sirumugai. The Kerala forest authorities had treated the injury on the elephant’s body, but when the animal strayed to the Tamil Nadu border, the elephant was neglected. The animal could have been treated for the injury and rescued. This is also a case of human negligence. Only 2 per cent deaths are natural in a forest. There are approximately 1,200-1,500 elephants in the region and anything more than that is a reason to worry.”
There’s no forest without elephants
“Elephants play a crucial role in the wilderness as plenty of species are dependent on it, right from a butterfly to a deer. Elephants are the ones that lay the roads in a forest and identify the sources of water. When we human beings enter the forest for our research, we follow the elephant route. In case of mild forest fire, the tracks laid by the elephants can mitigate the damage to an extent. Elephants also help in the growth of certain species of flora as they create gaps in the vegetation and allow new plants to grow. Elephants should be considered as national wealth,” emphasises Saleem.
Male-female ratio disturbing
Adding to the woes is the increasing death of male elephants, says Kalidas. “The ratio of male-female elephant in India is extremely low (1:25). There are only 1,500 elephants for 30,000 female elephants. This will affect the genetic diversity of the species and the loss of male elephant is a major blow for the same. Female elephants tend to leave the male with its calf and male elephant goes in lookout for another potential mate, thus making the gene pool rich and varied.”
Conservation measures should be long-term
Man-animal conflict is a perennial problem that environmentalists have been addressing in the city. “It’s time we worked on mitigation strategies to prevent accidents in human settlements. These can be prevented by taking into consideration all the wildlife movement areas, do a detailed study about it and work on strategies,” says Boominathan. Seconding him is Kalidas, “When there were incidents of elephant deaths in 2008 in Podanur, we had requested the railway authorities to reduce the speed of the trains when plying through elephant crossing areas. Elephant crossing is also dangerous to the passengers. Since, a majority of areas in Coimbatore is comprises elephant movement areas including Sathyamangalam, Ooty, Anaikatti, Moonar, traffic can be restricted here at night as a majority of the animals tend to cross the roads at night. Also, while capturing a wild elephant, the officials should consider the risks attached to it. It’s time we looked at long-term solutions.” Saleem adds, “Lack of manpower and funding is a serious concern in the forest department. But at the same time, we need to find out why the animals are straying into human settlements- is there an issue of poaching in the forest, is there a scarcity, do they have a threat? We get to notice the issues faced by an elephant because of its size. Imagine the plight of smaller species.
Develop tolerance towards pachyderms
Kalidas sums it up, “It’s time we developed more tolerance towards the jumbos. When tribals residing in the forests can cultivate their land, despite the threat of crop-raiding elephants, why can’t people in plains accept it? We have to develop a mechanism where the damage is minimal. Those who want forests should also understand the importance of having an elephant in it.”