THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Though the 2018 tiger census brought cheers to Kerala with the number of big cats touching 190 against the 136 recorded in the previous survey, the state has witnessed a marginal drop in its wild elephant population. Latest survey figures suggest that there are around 5,706 wild elephants against 6,177 jumbos recorded in the 2012 census. However, conservationists are satisfied over the big cat and tusker population as it is a healthy number when compared to the carrying capacity of Kerala forests.
According to the revised state-wise wild elephant population estimate based on the 2017 census, jumbo population across the country stood at 29,964 against 29,576 recorded as the mean figure in 2012. South India had the highest number of wild elephants - 14,612. Among the south Indian states, Karnataka leads the table with 6,049 elephants followed by Kerala.
What is the striking aspect in the new stats is that the state has a total of 5,706 wild elephants when the dung count (indirect) method was employed, while it was 3,054 when the direct count results were announced in 2017. In 2012 as well, the number of elephants was 2,735 in the direct count census. Following this, the Centre has revised its estimate of the wild elephant population in the country after employing dung count method as suggested by states and UTs like Kerala, Nagaland, Tripura and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. When the dung count was employed, the country witnessed a jump in jumbo population with 29,964 (dung count) jumbos in 2017 against the 27,312 in direct count.
When the country saw a marginal rise of elephants, Kerala witnessed a slight decline of around 7 per cent when compared to 2012. Surendra Kumar, Chief Wildlife Warden, said it could not be construed as a decline as the method followed by the authorities in taking the number of wild elephants had certain limitations. In the case of big cats, the figures would be more accurate as the census employs camera traps and software which identify tigers one-by-one after comparing their stripes.
With wild elephants, there are chances of error in the counting as Forest officials follow a census-based direct seeing and dung-based counts. Elephant is a migratory animal and it is very difficult to get their exact number. So, there is no need for any worry over the fluctuation as it is transitory and next time there may be a positive deviation, he said.
Conservationists are happy over the population of big cats and wild elephants in the state. According to them, there are healthy numbers while taking note of the carrying capacity of forests of Kerala. The state has achieved this despite the pressure on forests in Kerala from various quarters. The challenge is to maintain status quo rather than increasing the stocks further, they say.