Last Updated: Friday 10 July 2015

Biased BNHS

I was surprised to read in Rogue Elephants in the Backyard (August 15, 1994), that the Bombay Natural History Society (bnhs) allegedly "debunks" my study on crop raiding by elephants. While the bnhs study provides an additional or a different perspective to the subject, it cannot claim to debunk earlier studies. I wish I could see the results of the BNHS study first in journals reviewed by my peers. (The only paper published in their 11-year study has been in their own journal!)

The article has departed from the principle of audi alterem partem. A partial reading of 1 or 2 of my papers has resulted in biased views in the article.


No to toxic plastic wastes

There have been media reports about PepsiCo shipping thousands of tonnes of used plastic bottles from the us to India for reprocessing. Most of the used bottles are shipped to the Futura Industries factory near Madras. The recycled plastic waste is processed into polyester under hazardous conditions. The labourers, mostly women, who sort and wash the plastic bottles are paid about Rs 10 per day. No protective clothing or masks to protect them from scalding water, contaminants and exposure to the toxic fumes are provided.

In the past 30 years, the amount of discarded plastic waste in the us alone increased from 400,000 tonnes to more than 16 million tonnes. The toxic byproducts include ethylene oxide, benzene and xylenes, placing an additional burden on India's already threatened environment. PepsiCo should take the lead in producing safe, non-toxic, refillable glass bottles.



The BNHS study on elephant management has come out with very reliable scientific findings. Using methods that are undeniably superior to those used by Sukumar (the bnhs has used radio telemetry while Sukumar depends on general observation), the bnhs findings do not merely provide a "different perspective", but directly contradict the results of Sukumar's study. More precisely:

*While Sukumar assumes that all elephants are crop raiders in his paper Ecology of the Asian elephant in southern India -- feeding habits and crop raiding patterns (Journal of Tropical Ecology, 1990), the bnhs study proves that only some elephants are crop raiders, and they have to be identified if the crop raiding problem is to be tackled.

*While Sukumar suggests that capturing 20 bulls is as effective as capturing 200 females because the former cause more damage, the bnhs study points out that while a bull may raid more often than a cow, the damage caused in an area by female herd members is equal, if not more, than the damage caused by males.

This is not only because there are more females in the area than males, but also because although each herd member may cause lesser damage, the collective damage caused by the herd is greater than that caused by a single bull.

So both male and female elephants that have been already identified as crop raiders have to be captured to prevent crop damage.

*Sukumar dismisses habitat loss as a reason for crop raiding. The bnhs study, on the other hand, shows that habitat loss leads to increased crop raiding.

Sukumar does not take home ranges into account when he suggests that the elephants would shift to a different area in case of habitat degradation. Home range fidelity prevents them from moving to better habitats.

Incorrect information on these above aspects could mislead wildlife managers into adopting a wrong strategy to tackle the crop-raiding problem. Given the present status of the Asian elephant, mistakes in their population management could prove costly.


Bad joke

This is with reference to the cartoon in Down to Earth (June 15, 1994) which depicts Medha Patkar displaying 2 different boards to the World Bank and the Indian government. Significantly, Medha Patkar is shown to have a 2-faced approach as she purportedly asks the government to send back the World Bank and on the other hand asks the World Bank to "ask our government to stop".

Clearly, the cartoonist does not have any idea whatsoever about Medha's or the Narmada Bachao Andolan's stand on the World Bank and its role in the Sardar Sarovar project. The nba has never regarded the World Bank as a grievance cell, as your cartoon suggests. In fact, nba believes that the World Bank and the elites, whose interests the government is representing, are both parties to the Sardar Sarovar project and the destruction of the environment, social injustice and other outcomes of the project. Both must share the responsibility for causing this destruction.


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