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19 Jan 2020, Edition - 1650, Sunday

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Coimbatore

Coimbatore’s elephants at risk as death toll rises

Umar Sharieef

As the district counts a rising number of dead elephants, activists say lack of fodder is driving the animal towards human settlements, which causes conflict leading to death.

Eight wild elephants have been reported dead in the last seven months, the latest being a wild female that was found in a decomposed state near Anaikatti forest recently. However, this is not the first case of pachyderm death being reported near Anaikatti. Earlier in July too, a female elephant was found dead near a tribal settlement here.

The rising count has raised the hackles of forest officials and activists alike. According to Divisional Forest Officer Venkatesh, the female elephant was believed to be around 15 years old and was found in a decomposed state.

An official statement quoting doctors says an autopsy report revealed that the elephant died due to brain haemorrhage, suspecting that it may have tried to bring down a tree in its route.

Claiming the statement as flawed, a veterinarian who has performed autopsies on elephants, said on condition of anonymity, that the elephant had a powerful head which helped it to push or pull any strong without any damage to itself. He added that female elephants neither fight nor try to bring down trees or walls in their route.

“There are several reports of elephants found dead after being hit by trains, but none of them had damage on their skulls. To say the elephant died due to brain haemorrhage is unnatural,” the vet said. However, there have been no detailed reports so far in autopsies conducted on elephants, he added.

Eight elephants have been found dead in the last seven months in Coimbatore forest division due to lack of food and water inside the forest. The elephants died due to starvation and dehydration, said Pradheep Prabhakaran from Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI).

He told The Covai Post, he said most of the elephants inside the dense forest migrated in search of food and water. Most often they ended up near human settlements, resulting in man-elephant conflict. Unfortunately, all the deaths so far happened due to human interference inside forests, he said.

Coimbatore region has been declared as a high risk man-elephant conflict zone by experts. In another recent event near Pannimadai, a wild tusker killed two people. It was then named Maranam, meaning ‘death’ in Tamil by villagers residing nearby.

Forest Department officials say the district has a forest cover spread across 694 sq km. Residents of Madukkarai, Pannimadai and other areas close to this elephant habitat, said they had seen a marked rise in reported cases of human-elephant conflicts in the past few years. The number of people getting injured in these conflicts had also increased.

Construction, fencing to blame

Increased construction activity inside the forest area has fuelled these conflicts, say activists. When people see an elephant moving along these areas, they attack it. This results in dangerous consequences for both.

Local farmers, who grow sugarcane and banana to get better incomes, have secured their lands with electric fences to prevent elephants from coming in. “The electric fences are also the reason for many elephant deaths. The animals get electrocuted whenever they try to go over the fences that have cropped up in their corridor, or when they are attracted by the smell of the crops,” said one activist.

India has the world’s largest population of wild Asian elephants. However, just 22 per cent of elephant habitat is safeguarded in India’s sanctuaries. The rise in human-elephant conflicts and resulting elephant deaths can be controlled only if the remaining elephant corridors are protected.

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