PALAKKAD: The death rate of wild elephants in Kerala is high, reveals statistics shared by the forest department. According to an RTI reply, 849 wild elephants died in the state during the last decade, from 2009-10 to 2018-19. As per the 2018 census, the wild elephant population in the state is 5,706. The death rate is high, say experts. “The life expectancy of captive elephants in Kerala is 70 to 75 years while that of wild elephants is only 60 years,” said B N Anjan Kumar, technical assistant to chief wildlife warden.
Around 80 per cent of wild elephants die due to natural causes and the remaining due to electrocution, fight among tuskers, injuries caused by snares planted by humans and poaching. After 50 years, these elephants lose chewing teeth which makes it difficult for them to eat. This affects the health of the animal.The mortality rate of juvenile elephants is also high. In many cases, the elephants were found suffering from TB, Anjan Kumar said.
“We’ve to analyse the reasons based on postmortem examination reports to find out whether the mortality rate is high. We’ve to find out whether it is old age, disease or unnatural causes like poaching that caused their deaths. The forest department of late has also been following up on the postmortem reports,” said Dr P S Easa, a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group. Recently, there were reports of the presence of herpes virus, he said.Forest veterinary surgeon Arun Zachariah said most deaths could be due to natural causes and diseases.
Poaching of wild elephants rampant in state, Wayanad district notorious
Forest veterinary surgeon Arun Zachariah said poaching, which used to be reported more in areas like Wayanad, has come down remarkably. The other reasons could be conflicts within the herd and chewing of crackers kept by humans. But such deaths account for only 2 to 3 per cent.Rajesh, an elephant enthusiast, begged to differ. He said poaching is rampant in many areas in the state and Wayanad is notorious for it . The shortage of fodder and water in the summer months also results in deaths of these wild animals. In the last decade, 27 wild elephants were hit by trains in the Kanjikode-Madukkarai sector of Southern Railway.
Replying to an RTI query from Haridas Machingal, president of the Palakkad District Elephant Lovers Association, the department also stated that there were only 489 captive elephants in the state till June 15, 2020 of which 376 were tuskers, 95 female elephants and 18 makhna (tusk-less male). The chief wildlife warden was unaware of the number of “kumki” elephants in possession of the forest department’s elephant camps in the state. Haridas said currently there were four elephant camps in the state --- Kottur (Thiruvananthapuram), Konni (Pathanamthitta), Kodanad (Ernakulam) and Muthanga (Wayanad). Kumkis are trained only in Muthanga, Wayanad.
Arun said currently there were five kumki elephants in the state and all of them were housed in Muthanga. He said that two more elephants were being trained and once ready, the strength of kumki elephants could increase to 7.