COIMBATORE: The health of wild elephants, including a herd of 22 elephants, are regularly being monitored by the frontline staff at Pethikuttai reserve forest of Sirumugai forest range, forest department sources said.
The surveillance has been stepped up as the animals are unable to migrate from Pethikuttai to the eastern slopes of Nilgiris and Vilamundi forest in Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve (STR) in Erode district due to rise in water level in the backwaters of Bhavani Sagar dam.
District Forest Officer (Coimbatore forest division) D Venkatesh said, "Though elephants are very good swimmers, crossing the water body may be difficult for them due to the present water level. This year, a herd of mostly female elephants has preferred to stay in the Pethikuttai RF-side spread across 2,080 hectares."
In summer (March to May), the availability of fodder was low and as a result, some of of the elephants of the herd were seen entering nearby farm fields, the official said and added that this was not the case in September as the month saw a good amount of rains.
"They are foraging within Pethikuttai forest limits," the official said.
On the 20 deaths of elephants reported in the division, Venkatesh said that seven were recorded from Pethikkuttai alone.
"The deaths are suspected to be the direct cause of limited food resources as the elephants chose to stay put in the small patch of habitat. The department is taking steps to study the herd since the place is used by spotted deer and blackbucks. The elephants don't consume if spotted deers and blackbucks release their droppings in fodder," he said.
The official said that the department has undertaken field studies to ascertain the reason for continued stay of the herd in the suboptimal patch even though they have an option to swim across the water body to move to the other side and follow its migration path.
"Detailed study to ascertain the kind of vegetation and habitat, health, pathways, water-level, and water quality is underway," the forest officer said.
"With the assistance of the WWF, India, 30 camera traps are deployed in this RF to monitor the herd. The elephant trackers from Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) were also deployed to study the herd in the Pethikuttai reserve forest, particularly its health condition," the DRO said.