The K Gudi camp at BR Hills has little fodder for the tamed elephants to graze upon owing to ‘lantana camara’, an invasive weed which has been covering up the forest turf.

An elephant with its mahout on its back
news Wildlife Friday, April 23, 2021 - 21:57
Written by  Girisha

The officials at elephant camp at Kyateshwara Gudi – popularly known as K Gudi – in Karnataka are in search of a new suitable location around Suvarnavathy reservoir in Chamarajnagar to shift the camp. This is because the K Gudi camp at Biligiri Rangana Hills (BR Hills) has very little fodder for the tamed elephants to graze upon owing to ‘lantana camara’, an invasive weed which has been covering up the forest turf, leaving reduced grasslands. To make matters worse for these elephants, even perennial sources of water holes in the region have had very little to offer during summer to meet the animals’ water requirements.

Confirming that they are on a lookout for a new location for the elephant camp, BR Hills Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), Santosh Kumar, said that the site location would be ideal in the backwaters of Suvarnavathy reservoir in the region.

The DCF added that the new elephant camp would have about five tamed elephants that can be taken into service in case of rescue operations. “Now, we have to bring in trained elephants from Bandipur or national parks for rescue operations in BR Hills. The idea to start a new elephant camp will help in trained jumbos to the location needed more quickly,” said Santosh Kumar. The DCF also admitted that at K Gudi, the present water storage in water holes would not be adequate if five or more tamed elephants are brought into the camp.

Lantana covering the grass. Photo by Girisha

According to sources, there were about a dozen tamed elephants at the K Gudi camp some years ago. Over time though, these were shifted to other elephant camp in Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks, owing to fodder and water shortage. The source said that at K Gudi, there were about six elephants a few years ago. Presently, a lone elephant named Gajendra is housed at the camp, and age has been catching up to the 75-year-old pachyderm. Gajendra’s companion at the elephant camp has been sent to another camp.

Gajendra, the lone elephant at K Gudi camp. Photo by a forest official.

On the daily fodder and water requirements of an elephant, Raman Sukumar, elephant scientist attached with the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, said elephants need about 2% of their body weight in dry plant forage and about 8% in fresh plant forage. He added that the water needs depend on the size of the jumbos, and usually, they need about 100 to 200 litres a day. While the foraging area depends on habitat and season, Sukumar said, “In our forests, elephants travel about five kilometres a day in search of fodder and water.”  When it comes to selecting a site for an elephant camp, Sukumar said that the location should have shade and water – preferably flowing water.

At elephant camps, elephants are given jaggery, paddy straw, ragi balls, horse gram, coconut among other things on a prescribed scale, apart from what they consume while foraging in the forests. Some of Karnataka’s elephant campes are in Balle, Anechowkoor, Sakarebailu, Dubare and a couple more.

Sources said that a new elephant camp in place of the one at K Gudi might come up at Budiparaga, close to backwaters of Suvarnavathy reservoir. However, Malleshappa, a State Wildlife Board member, said that this would not be not be ideal when it comes to attracting tourists. Malleshappa explained that normally, tourists visit K Gudi on way to Biligiri Rangana Swamy Temple and the new location identified by officials at Budiparaga is far away from BR Hills Temple, which could cause visitors to skip visiting.

In the meantime, the K Gudi camp officials said that they removed portions of lantana to enable grass to regenerate and grassland management will be taken-up in coming days to mitigate the fodder shortage issue. BR Hills Forest officials also clarified that no new location has been identified for the elephant camp yet. There are also chances that if a suitable location is not identified, the elephant camp may stay at K Gudi.

Girisha is a freelancer who writes on forests and wildlife.

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