It could have come from plants, thinks Karnataka
Four wild elephants, found dead in Nanjangud, 25 km from Mysore, in November 2008, died of cyanide poisoning. Chemical analysis ordered by the Karnataka forest department has confirmed this. The deaths made the high court take notice for the first time of the increasing number of unnatural deaths among elephants in the state. In December it ordered the state forest department to constitute a committee to look into the matter.
"The chemical analysis showed traces of cyanide, possibly from a plant source which has not yet been identified. This is not the first case of pachyderms dying due to cyanide poisoning," said T Gopal, a retired veterinarian from the Institute of Animal Health and Veterinary Biologicals. Raman Suku-mar, chairperson, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science said preliminary tests showed the presence of cyanide.Further tests are required to detect the amount of the chemical. Nothing can be said conclusively about the source of poison, Sukumar added.
Sukumar and Gopal are part of the Karnataka government committee that includes botanists, veterinarians and wildlife researchers. While Sukumar is looking into habitat issues in the committee, Gopal is investigating the veterinary aspects, including causes of death. The committee submitted its report to the state government last month.
Nanjangud lies close to Nagarhole and Bandipur national parks which have about 1,000 elephants each. These elephants stray into the fields looking for food.
The government records show a sharp increase in the unnatural deaths among Karnataka's wild elephants 2007 onwards (see graph The death toll). The committee report emphasizes on reducing the human-elephant conflict mainly by managing the habitat. This would include increasing food availability for the pachyderms with adequate waterholes, erecting barriers to prevent straying and working with villagers to create squads to chase the elephants off the fields. "We need a more detailed assessment of the landscape. Invasive lantana shrubs, for instance, have spread following the drought in recent years. It has been observed, with the growth of lantana, grass does not grow to the extent it should," said Sukumar.
Measures like electric fences and trenches have not worked either. "Trenches do not work in heavy rains and fences are cut down to let cattle in. Besides, they are not maintained properly," said Sukumar. The number of cases of electrocution has shot up in the last two years. He also stressed on the need to fill up vacancies, a concern shared by chief conservator (wildlife) Anur Reddy. "The posts of forest guards have been vacant for close to 10 years. These have to be filled up as there is an urgent requirement for field staff," said Reddy.
|Karnataka has about 50,000 elephants|
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.