Elephant number in TN declines by a shocking 30 pc? Forest officials deny

State forest officials question the inference from the numbers saying the problem lies in the manner in which the 2012 census was conducted.
Elephant number in TN declines by a shocking 30 pc? Forest officials deny
Elephant number in TN declines by a shocking 30 pc? Forest officials deny

A recent reply from the Union Environment Ministry in the Lok Sabha regarding the population of elephants in Tamil Nadu has sent shockwaves throughout the state.

It was revealed that in comparison to the numbers offered after the 2012 census, there has been a 30% decline in the number of elephants in Tamil Nadu.

Elephants are considered to be the ‘architects of the jungle’ – by travelling over 16 km a day, they create new pathways in the forest to allow for a wider genepool of flora and fauna to thrive. According to experts, such a plunge in the elephant population could have catastrophic effects on the environment.

From 4,015 elephants in 2012, the centre has claimed that the population in 2017 stands at only 2,761. That is a difference of over 1,200 in the population of this species.

But following this revelation, state forest officials and conservationists have taken to questioning the inference from the numbers, assuaging concerns over the decline.

“The reduction that is being talked about does not provide a correct picture and is due to erroneous counting in the past,” says Srinivas R Reddy, Field Director, MTR and Mukurthi National Park.

According to the officer, the problem lies in the manner in which the census was conducted in 2012.

“Earlier a very basic method of block counting was used. It was not a very refined way of doing the counting and possibly led to duplication in the numbers,” says Srinivas. “But in 2017, we have used stratified block counting which is a more refined method,” he adds.

In stratified block count method, a sample block count is done. A random block is chosen and 50% is covered this way under supervision. In addition to this, an indirect method using dung count was also done.

“The current mortality rate of the animal is within the acceptable limit of 10%. Elephants being a migratory species, it is difficult to keep track of them. Now that we have a better method of population assessment; we now want to carry out a census annually as opposed to every four years, which is the practice now. We will know in the coming years what exactly the status of their population is,” he adds.

But even the Field Director cannot deny that the species is under severe stress due to man-animal conflicts.

“Encroachment of forest areas for living quarters and farming has led to a lot of man-animal conflict,” says the officer. “Their traditional migratory routes have been affected,” he adds.

Sadiq Ali, founder of Ooty-based NGO Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust (WNCT), also agrees with the Forest department. “Man-animal conflict definitely exists but that has not led to a major loss of animal life. We also have poaching under control. Personally, I have seen calves in every herd that we have come across,” he explains.

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