BERHAMPUR: Once home to 102 elephants, Rayagada district over a period of 40 years has witnessed alarming decline in jumbo population contrary to the claims of the Forest department of ensuring safe and conducive habitat for the gentle giants.
As per official records, in 1979, 102 elephants were recorded in the district. The figure has now come down to only eight in the latest census. Surprisingly, no data is available on the missing 94 elephants over the last four decades.
Until the 1970s, large herds of elephants were frequently seen moving in Chandrapur, Muniguda, Bissamcuttack and Gudari areas. To restrain them from human settlements, a proposal for a sanctuary at Jaraka village in Chandrapur was placed before the State government in 1990. But the proposal is gathering dust.
While forest officials expressed inability to provide any information on the proposed sanctuary, they attributed the decline in elephant numbers to rampant felling of trees and shifting cultivation. They, however, remained tight-lipped about the missing figures and said the elephants usually shift to adjacent forests of Ganjam, Kandhamal and Koraput.
A senior forest official, who wished to remain anonymous, denied the claim and said while it is true that elephants go to other forests in search of food, they usually return to their original habitat. He also questioned the plantation drive carried out by the department.
"The number of plantations are usually inflated on the records. There are also no steps for post care of the saplings as a result of which most dry up," he said, adding, the Chandrapur-Kotgarh-Karlapat-Ambadala-Urlajodi elephant corridor continues to lack facilities for safety of the animals.
Rayagada DFO Bijay Parida said he is not aware about the elephant sanctuary proposal. "Elephants are declining in numbers due to depleting forest cover and also natural deaths. We are keeping a strict vigil on poachers," Parida said.