Wildlife & Biodiversity

Elephant found dead in Odisha’s Keonjhar, third within a month

Forest officials believe the dead elephant belonged to a herd of elephants roaming in the area

 
By Ashis Senapati
Last Updated: Thursday 09 July 2020
The elephant carcass was in a state of decay when it was found, something that points to the death likely having occurred more than a week ago Photo: Ashis Senapati

The carcass of a four-year-old male elephant was found in Odisha’s mineral-rich Keonjhar district July 8, 2020. The carcass — the third elephant death in the district and the fourth in the state in a month — was found in Choramalada forest under the Barbil range.

The elephant carcass was in a state of decay when it was found, something that points to the death likely having occurred more than a week ago. Locals saw the carcass in the forest and soon informed forest officials. A team of the officials reached the spot and sent the carcass for an autopsy, after which it was buried.

Forest officials believe the dead elephant belonged to a herd of elephants roaming in the area recently. An investigation into the death is underway, said Santosh Joshi, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Keonjhar.

“Stern action will be taken against those who will be found guilty,” he added.

The carcasses of a male and female elephant were found in Baitarani forest in Keonjhar on June 14. The tusks of the 22-year-old male elephant were missing.

A probe by officials revealed both the elephants were electrocuted to death. Poachers allegedly spread livewires connected to 11 kilovolt transmission lines meant wild boars. The two elephants died when they came in contact with the livewires, according to the forest officer.

The deaths occurred at a time when there was national outrage after a pregnant elephant died in Kerala.

An analysis of the death cases in Odisha reveals the lack of protection for elephants. Eighty-nine elephants died in the state in 15 months, between April 2019 and July 9, 2020, according to Biswajit Mohanty, a noted environmentalist and secretary of the Wildlife Society of Odisha.

Out of 89 elephants, 40 died from natural causes, while the reason for 18 deaths could not be ascertained. Seventeen elephants were poached and 10 were electrocuted.

Four elephants were crushed to death under the wheels of the vehicles on highways, while one was mowed down by a train, according to Mohanty. “We are also deeply concerned that the number of deaths of adult, breeding elephants has gone up to 26 on July 9 from 16 as on January 5,” he said.

Most of the 26 adult males died of unnatural reasons. Odisha has rapidly lost adult male elephants, about 20 every year.

This has threatened the sustainability and health of the elephant population.

A 2011 circular of the Odisha Forest Department clearly stated that each case of unnatural elephant death will be enquired into for fixing accountability of the DFO or Range officer, said Mohanty. “The main reason for this continuing failure is a lack of fixing accountability,” he added.

In the past nine years, more than 170 elephants were killed by poachers and not a single senior officer was suspended or dismissed, Mohanty pointed out.

Funds are not a problem, said Mohanty, as Odisha receives funds from the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) to the tune of Rs 400 crore every year.

CAMPA funds are utilised to promote afforestation and regeneration activities to compensate for forest land being used in non-forest activities.

The state forest department spends a part of this money every year on elephant protection, according to him.

Project Elephant, the top government-run body for the conservation of elephants, has not announced any measures to curb the number of elephant deaths in Odisha either.

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