New Delhi: World Elephant Day— 12 August—will bring bad news for wildlife lovers. The population of elephants has declined by nearly 10% or 3,000 in the last five years. The government, however, claims the reduction is mainly on account of a more scientific count this time.
Preliminary results of the 2017 elephant census will be released by Harsh Vardhan, Union minister for environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) on Saturday on the occasion of World Elephant Day, launched in 2012 to draw attention to the plight of Asian and African elephants.
“Compared to the 2012 census, when population of elephants was estimated to be around 30,000, this time it is coming out to be just over 27,000. The reduction is, however, due to the scientific methods adopted during this exercise," said a top MoEFCC official, who did not want to be named.
“But these are preliminary results. Final results will come in the next 2-3 months," the official added.
The exercise to count India’s national heritage animal numbers was started by the Project Elephant division of the environment ministry along with state forest departments in November 2016 and completed in May this year.
The official explained that the numbers have fallen because scientific methods have been used to estimate the population -- which was not the case in previous estimations.
“In this estimation, we have used techniques like dung decay method, block count method, elephant distribution mapping and water hole count technique," the official explained.
In 2012, the elephant population was estimated at around 30,000 (29,391-30,711) and in 2007 it was estimated at about 27,670 (27,657-27,682).
As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the population of Asian elephants, an endangered species, was about was 41,410-52,345. Of that, India alone accounts for nearly 60% (26,390–30,770).
Wildlife activists have welcomed the use of scientific methods.
“The 2012 census figure of 30,000 elephants was always under the scanner. This time government has collaborated with scientific institutes and used scientific methods to estimate the population of elephants. Now we have a slightly more realistic figure and thus planning for their conservation can improve," said Sandeep Kumar Tiwari, programme manager, IUCN-SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group, an international body of scientists and experts concerned with the study, monitoring, management, and conservation of Asian Elephants.
“However, the concerns regarding elephant habitats and their population remains and government will need to address them," Tiwari added.
Although elephants are worshipped in India, human-elephant conflict has increased in the country and has emerged as one of the concern areas for the authorities over the past few years. The primary reason for human-elephant conflict is the loss and degradation of wildlife habitats, increasing the chances of wild animals leaving their habitat and encountering people.
As per official numbers, in last four years, one human life was lost every day due to human-elephant conflict. A total of 1465 humans have been killed in the last four years (2013-14-2016-17).
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 human-elephant conflict.