Wild elephants

One can very well imagine that in former times, when there
were fewer people, forests were plentiful, and hunting for
commercial purposes was negligible, Indian forests were
teeming with elephants. The Moghul Emperor Jehangir
(1605-27) was said to have had about 113 000 captive
elephants in his empire (Lahiri Choudhury, 1988). The
number of wild elephants during that period must have
been many times greater than that. Since then, wild
elephants have become extirpated from many states in
central and northern India. Loss of habitat coupled with
hunting and capturing have considerably reduced the
elephant population in India in recent times. Elephants are
now found in India in four non-adjoining geographical
areas of the country: the northeast, the east, the northwest
and the south, totalling about 86 000 sq km.

The first ever estimate of the elephant population can
perhaps be credited to F.W. Champion who in 1938
reported a maximum number of 250 elephants in the State
of Uttar Pradesh (Daniel, 1998). Formal surveys and
census surveys of wild elephants on a national scale
started towards the end of the 1970s. The Asian Elephant
Specialist Group (AESG) of the IUCN Species Survival
Commission provided the first estimate of wild elephants in
India in 1980 as 14 800-16 455 (Daniel, 1980). The AESG
provided the next estimate in 1985 as 16 590-21 361
(Anon., 1985). Sukumar reported the elephant population
in India in 1989 as between 17 635 and 24 090 (Anon.,
1993). Santiapillai and Jackson (1990) have cited 17 310-
22 120 as the wild elephant population in India. Daniel
(1998) has quoted the elephant population in 1993 as
between 22 796 and 28 346.

Detailed censuses of wild elephants have been carried out
in different states in India between 1997 and 2000. The
latest available estimates indicate the following distribution
of wild elephants: 9 401 in the northeast (Assam,
Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland), 2 772 in
the east (Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa), 1 000-1 984 in the
northwest (Uttar Pradesh and Uttranchal) and 14 853 in
the south (Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and
Tamilnadu). About 114-180 wild elephants also exist in the
three northeastern States of Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram
as well as on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Hence, the
present population of wild elephants in India can be said to
be in the range of 28 140-29 190

Apparently, the wild elephant population in India has been
showing an increasing trend. But the situation is not really
promising. Significant decline in the habitat and population
of elephants has been observed in the northeastern
states. Even in the southern states of Kerala, Karnataka
and Tamilnadu, where elephants have increased in
number, poaching of tuskers for ivory has impaired the
demographic structure of elephant populations. The
proportion of mature bulls in these states has declined,
considerably disturbing the sex ratio. In Bandipur Tiger
Reserve (Karnataka) and Madumalai Sanctuary
(Tamilnadu) the ratio of adult male to adult female has
been reported to be between 1:12 to 1:15, whereas in
Periyar Tiger Reserve (Kerala) this ratio has been stated
to be around 1:100 (Menon et al., 1997). Such abnormal
sex ratios do not bode well for the future growth of these
populations. Elephants are also moving to new regions on
account of disturbances in their original home ranges. In
fact, the elephants found in Andhra Pradesh have been
migrants from Tamilnadu since 1984.
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