Bhubaneswar, August 12 (LocalWire): With as many as 718 elephants perishing in less than a decade, Odisha has virtually turned into a graveyard for elephants, accorded national heritage animal status.
As we celebrate the World Elephant Day, today, to promote the preservation of these animals, the safety of these huge mammals in 49 forest divisions of the state have come under the scanner due to the rising mortality graph of the pachyderm.
Odisha, with 70% of the total elephant population in eastern India, is home to 1,976 pachyderms as per the latest census released by the state forest department.
“The safety of elephants in Odisha, the land of Gajapati, is in peril. Odisha that once took pride in the large number of elephants it had, in now turning into a graveyard for these animals.
As we celebrate World Elephant Day, the distressed elephants of Odisha has nothing to celebrate with their homes getting encroached for mining, farming, industries, and urbanization, while their traditional paths are getting cut off by irrigation canals, railway lines, and mines.
In 1979 there were 2,044 elephants in Odisha, which has plunged to 1,976 elephants,” conservationist Biswajit Mohanty said.
The average per year death of elephants in the state had climbed from 33 per year in 1990 to 46 per year during 2000–2010 period and the mortality graph has gone up to 77 per year since 2010.
The state registered 718 elephant deaths during the last nine years and five months. Majority of those elephants that perished died due to human-made factors, while 329 elephants died due to diseases, age-related ailments, accidental falls, and infighting between herds.
The exact cause of 146 elephant deaths could not be ascertained as the carcass of the animals were found months after the death.
Reports indicate that over 103 elephants were killed by poachers for Ivory, while 67 of them were killed by poachers by laying live electric wires. The sagging power line and badly installed electric poles by power distribution companies led to the death of 45 elephants.
Overall, 26 elephants were crushed under the wheels of fast-moving trains, two died on road after being hit by speeding vehicles, and 11 of them perished due to manmade structures like open wells and canals.
The elephants are bearing the brunt of fast disappearing habitation corridor.
As many as 14 elephants corridors were officially identified by the Odisha government in January 2010 covering over 870 square km area, including three inter-state corridors with West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand.
“The government has spent Rs 20 crore to develop the corridors during the five years. These corridors, however, are yet to be notified under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 as Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ), thereby exposing the area to future diversion for mining, industries, canal, railway, dams or road development,” Mohanty informed.
The elephants’ habitats in Keonjhar and Dhenkanal districts are badly hit by human interference. This has resulted in a drop in their population.
The mineral-rich Keonjhar district was regarded as an ideal elephant habitat. The forested areas of the district lost as many as 72 elephants over the years.
The district had 112 elephants in 2002, while the number has shrunk to 40 animals only. Indiscriminate and illegal mining activities are said to be the prime reason behind the drop in the number of elephants here.
Similarly Dhenkanal the district is no more the traditional migration route of elephants because of construction of Rengali irrigation canals and mushrooming of illegal stone quarries in the animal habitat.
The 60 odd elephants from the Chandaka sanctuary disturbed by development activities and lack of fodder as well as cut off by expansion of Bhubaneswar city have now almost abandoned the sanctuary and migrated to Ganjam and Cuttack districts.
A group of 15 to 16 elephants from Chandaka that stayed put in the Ganjam’s Rambha forest range for about 4 to 5 years have been completely wiped out falling prey to electrocutions, and train accidents, while the number of Chandaka elephants have gone down from 25 to 20.
These animals are now trapped in small patches of forests and come into frequent conflict with farmers in Khuntuni area.
Odisha elephants live a life fraught with danger all the time due to poaching, poisoning, electrocutions, train accidents being chased away by the forest squads even though the Supreme Court has banned chasing of elephants.
The tragic death of seven elephants by electrocution due to low hanging 11-KV electric wires at Dhenkanal last year was the largest such incident in India that shocked everyone.
Every year, these heritage animals are being killed by electrified wire traps laid for wild boar in Dhenkanal and Angul districts.