Elephant Census 2017
In the first-ever synchronised all-India Elephant Census 2017, the population of India’s national heritage animal, the elephant, is at 27, 312 across 23 states.
This means the population has decreased by about 3,000, compared to last census in 2012. In 2012, the population of Asian elephant, an endangered and protected species in India, was estimated at around 30,000 (29,391-30,711) and in 2007 it was estimated at about 27,670 (27,657-27,682).
While numbers are lower than in 2012, previous counts were not synchronised & may have had duplication. Experts say parallels cannot be drawn, because in the 2012 count, various states used different methodologies and the effort was not synchronised across the country; errors and duplication could have led to overestimation.
As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the population of Asian elephants was about 41,410 to 52,345 and of that India alone accounts for nearly 60%.
Director of the Project Elephant, R.K Shrivastav, said he is hopeful that the exercise will set new standards in population estimation of elephants in India and in other countries as well. “Quality of data collected during the elephant census will be high. It will be helpful in effective planning of various issues relating to elephant conservation in the country,”.
India started Project Elephant in 1992 to protect the Asian elephant, its habitat and corridors and address the man-elephant conflict. Since then, the government has been counting the elephant population every four to five years.
At present, there are 32 elephant reserves across India, covering over 58,000 sq. km. But loss and degradation of wildlife habitats, including the elephant corridors, are increasing the human-elephant conflict.
The highest population was in southern region (11,960) followed by the northeast region (10,139), east-central region (3,128) and northern region (2,085).
Country’s over 55 percent of elephant population is in Southern region and mainly in two states of Karnataka and Kerala.
Among the states, the highest population was recorded in Karnataka (6,049), followed by Assam (5,719) and Kerala (3,054).
In North-East Region, Assam has the maximum number of elephants, 5,719, followed by 1,754 in Meghalaya and 1,614 in Arunachal Pradesh. The population of elephants in north Bengal has been included in the Northeast population.
Overall elephant density of 0.23 elephants per square km in Assam. In Assam, elephants are found in 36 forest divisions. A total area of 11,601 square km was sampled for block count direct method for the state and the elephant density of 0.38 animals per square kilometre was estimated for this state.
In Meghalaya, much of the elephant habitat area is under community forest. A total of 232 blocks were sampled in the state and the overall density was 0.16 elephants per square kilometre.
Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate change (MoEFCC), Dr Harsh Vardhan launched a nationwide campaign, “Gaj Yatra”, on the occasion of World Elephant Day on 12 August, to protect elephants, which will cover 12 elephant range states.
The environment minister also released a document—“Agreed points of action on trans-boundary conservation of elephants by India and Bangladesh”—which highlighted the issues on which the two nations have achieved consensus. The agreed points included constitution of a joint working group within 60 days to evolve and develop protocols and standard operating procedures for trans-boundary conservation and management of elephants.
It also called for facilitating trans-boundary migration along the India-Bangladesh border, establishment of response teams to guide such elephants which may stray into human settlements, ensure sharing of information, discouraging erection of electric fences for protection of agriculture and horticulture crops in the areas falling in identified migratory corridors to prevent death of elephants from electrocution and steps to protect, improve and expand natural habitats for elephants.
As per official numbers, in last four years, one human life was lost every day due to the human-elephant conflict. A total of 1,465 humans have been killed in the last four years (2013-14 to 2016-17).
Governments, both at the centre and in the states, have been making efforts to address the issue, but due to the huge pressure for development, natural habitats have suffered. They have even used methods like beehives and chilli fences to prevent the human-elephant conflict—to limited success.
World Elephant Day
World Elephant Day is a yearly worldwide occasion celebrated over the world on August 12, to focus the attention of various stakeholders in supporting various conservation policies to help protect elephants, including improving enforcement policies to prevent illegal poaching and trade in ivory, conserving elephant habitats, providing better treatment for captive elephants and reintroducing captive elephants into sanctuaries.
The objective of World Elephant Day is to make mindfulness about the predicament of elephants and to share learning and positive answers for the better care and administration of captive and wild elephants.
African elephantsare listed as “vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “endangered” in the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
Key Fact: As per the available population estimates, there are about 400,000 African elephants and 40,000 Asian elephants.