Wildlife & Biodiversity

There’s a human hand in every tenth elephant death in Odisha

34 elephants were killed by poachers, 30 died after being hit by trains and six died in road accidents in the last 10 years

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Thursday 07 July 2022
A male elephant was electrocuted in Odisha’s Bonai forest division in Sundargarh district November 18, 2021. Photo: Ashis Senapati

Human-driven reasons were behind every tenth elephant death in Odisha in the last decade. The state government has adopted a slew of measures to reduce such deaths. Yet government data itself pointed out at least 70 elephant deaths due to human-driven causes.

Eighty-two elephants died in Odisha in 2019-20, 77 in 2020-21 and 86 in 2021-22. Thirty-four elephants were killed by poachers, 30 died after being hit by trains and six died in road accidents.

They were among 784 elephants that died in Odisha since 2012, Pradeep Kumar Amat, the state’s forest, environment and climate change minister told the state Assembly July 6, 2022. However, the minister did not specify the exact reasons behind the deaths of the remaining elephants.

Down To Earth has regularly reported on the issue of elephant deaths in Odisha.


There were 1,827 elephants in Odisha according to the 1999 census. This number rose to 1,930 in 2012 and 1,954 in 2015. The last elephant census in 2017 put the figure at 1,976.

Amat enumerated several measures taken by the state government to protect elephants.

The Odisha government was working on three projects — Mayurbhanj Elephant Conservation Project, Sambalpur Elephant Conservation Project and Mahanadi Elephant Conservation Project — to conserve elephants in the state, he said.

The forest department had also formed 16 units along with local villagers to check elephant depredations in villages near forests.

The department was using drone cameras to monitor the movements of elephants. Forest department personnel had placed mineral-enhanced salt licks near water bodies to boost the animals’ immune systems, Amat said.

The state energy department disbursed an amount of Rs 445.75 crore last October to Odisha’s power distribution companies.

The aim was to increase the ground clearance of the electrical transmission networks, replace bare conductors and envelop electric wires in elephant corridors and movement areas to prevent the electrocution of elephants.

Another major cause of elephant deaths in Odisha is collision with trains. Rail tracks in Dhenkanal, Jajpur, Keonjhar, Ganjam, Gajapati, Sundargarh, Balasore, Bhadrak, Puri, Jharsuguda, Sambalpur and Cuttack cut through elephant corridors.

The state forest department had recommended reducing train speeds, particularly at night, to prevent their collisions with elephants. Forest officials now guard all the vulnerable railway tracks at night, the minister said.


The department had also identified many vulnerable spots along the migration routes of elephants. The animals migrate annually from forest to non-forest areas mainly between March and December in search of fodder and water.

Conservationists expressed concerns about the figures given by the minister.

“The deaths of 784 elephants in a decade are an ominous sign for elephant protection efforts in the state,” Jayakrushna Panigrahi, the secretary of Orissa Environmental Society, told this reporter.

“There have been a spate of elephant killings in the state for a long time. Although the state forest department has been making tall claims about keeping poaching in check, the seizure of many tusks presents a different picture,” he added.

Panigrahi claimed the lack of proper patrolling by forest officials and guards was the main reason behind the rise in elephant poaching cases.

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