Elephant count in Tamil Nadu rose by 800 in five years, 130 may die this year: FCRI experts

During migration, the animals, including mothers, find it difficult to bear the heat and get nutritious grass.
Representational Image
Representational Image

COIMBATORE: Experts from the Forest College and Research Institute in Mettupalayam have told a committee constituted to probe the reasons for the death of wild elephants, especially young ones, over the past year in Tamil Nadu that 130 elephants may die in Tamil Nadu this year and their population may have gone up by 800 compared to the last census in 2017.

According to sources in the Department of Wildlife Biology in the Government Arts College, Udhagamandalam, the primary reasons for the death of wild elephant calves since 1991 in the State may be drought and lack of water in forests during summer.

K Bharanidharan, associate professor, Forest College and Research Institute, Mettupalayam, in his study Assessment on present population status of elephants and development of elephant population prediction models for Tamil Nadu, said that 130 elephants may die across Tamil Nadu in 2022 - four more than last year.

His model also predicts that the population of wild elephants would increase by 800 and the total count would stand between 3,500 and 3,600 in 2022. During the census in 2017, the total number of elephants in Tamil Nadu was 2,761.

Dr B Ramakrishnan, assistant professor, Department of wildlife Biology, Government Arts College, Udhagamandalam, and his team have accessed 1,544 post-mortem examination reports of wild elephants that died over the last 28 years (till 2019).

At least 940 of these deaths were reported in the Nilgiris Elephant Reserve Forest Area encompassing Gudalur, MTR, Coimbatore, STR, and Dharmapuri and Hosur, which is the largest habitat of Asian elephants. Of the 940 deaths, 110 happened between April and May during peak summer every year.

Ramakrishnan, in his study Assessment and preparation of status report on issues with elephant habitats connectivity and habitat fragmentation, which was shared with the committee, told TNIE, “We found that most of the elephant calf deaths happened between the ages of 1 and 8 when they normally have lower immunity.

Usually, elephants spend much of their time in Mudumalai and Bandipur in Karnataka and Wayanad in Kerala till November and they used to migrate to Coimbatore and Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve from December and stay there till May.

Multiple factors lead to high mortality among calves. During migration, the animals, including mothers, find it difficult to bear the heat and get nutritious grass. Calves also have to survive on stagnant water and are frequently abandoned by their mothers, leading to higher mortality.

In optimal foraging areas, such as Mudumalai, Bandipur and Wayanad, they satiate their hunger fully and in other sub-optimal foraging areas like Coimbatore, they limit their intake. Elephants should keep moving from place to place to ensure the health of forests.

"Rejuvenation of traditional waterfalls and creation of additional water troughs and waterholes inside forest areas is the need of the hour," Ramakrishnan said.

Dr Siva Subramanian, a wildlife biologist in Coimbatore, said, "For conserving any species, both mortality and natality are important. It is difficult, however, to access elephant natality since most of the births happen inside forests."

A senior official of the probe committee said, "The habitat management measures are in place for reducing elephant mortality. Health of the elephant population depends on habitat health of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala and a good connectivity between them."

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