Project Elephant

Project Elephant was launched in February 1992 as a centrally sponsored scheme of the Government of India.

The project was predicated on the need to focus conservation action on the Asian Elephant and its habitat, which currently face a number of threats. The main threats include:

a) Reduction and fragmentation of habitat and consequent isolation of populations into small and genetically unviable units;

b) Conflicts between wild elephants and human populations, leading to loss of human life and property and retaliatory killing of wild elephants;

c) Poaching of elephants for ivory and, in some parts of the country, for meat;

d) Elephant mortality due to other causes, such as from transmission lines, rail lines, highways etc., passing through the elephant habitat and other natural causes such as floods;

e) Inadequate finance, infra-structure and human resources for proper implementation of management priorities at the field level.


Against this background, Project Elephant was launched to ensure long term conservation of viable populations of the Asian Elephant and its natural habitats in the country. The specific objectives of the project are to:

a) Protect, restore and ecologically improve the existing habitats and linkage corridors;

b) Protect wild elephants from poaching and unnatural deaths;

c) Mitigate human-elephant conflicts and the ecological and socio-economic factors responsible for such conflicts;

d) Build capacity in the states for proper and scientific management of wild elephants;

e) Encourage human treatment and management of captive elephants; and

f) Provide technical and financial assistance to the states for proper and scientific management of wild elephants and their habitats.

Project Elephant differs from other wildlife conservation projects such as Project Tiger in that it covers not only the protected areas (national parks and sanctuaries) but also other areas, which constitute the habitat of the wild elephants such as reserved and protected forests and other habitats. The projects covers an area of approximately 60,000 sq kms in 12 states, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Four distinct populations of the elephants occur in India. These are:

a) North-Western population, covering the state of Uttar Pradesh.

b) Eastern or Central population which covers the States of Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa.

c) North-Eastern population which covers the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya,Nagaland and Tripura, and

d) Southern population in the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Under Project Elephant, 11 elephant reserves have been identified in the country, the details of which are given in the Table-1.

Table - 1

Location of elephant reserves with approximate area (in sq.kms) and elephant population

S.No.   Location of the Reserve                                         Area         Population
                                                                      (     (approximately)
1.      South-West Bengal, South-East Bihar to Orissa                    8,365          3,000     
2.      Kameng in Arunachal Pradesh to Sonitpur in Assam                 7,500          1,580     
3.      Dibru in Assam to Deomali in Arunachal Pradesh                   5,000          1,800     
4.      Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong in Assam to Intanki in Nagaland          4,500          1,800     
5.      Barail in Assam to Saifung in Meghalaya                          1,500            150  
6.      Balphakram and adjoining areas in Meghalaya                      1,800          2,500     
7.      Nilgiri and Eastern Ghats in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka   11,000          5,000     
8.      Nilambur-Silent Valley in Kerala to Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu     2,500            600  
9.      Anamalai in Tamil Nadu and Parambikulam in Kerala                3,000          1,500     
10.     Periyar in Kerala to Madurai in Tamil Nadu                       3,000          1,700     
11.     Rajaji to Corbett in Uttar Pradesh                               8,000            750  

A 14 member Steering Committee oversees the functioning of Project Elephant in the Ministry of Environment & Forests. The Steering Committee is chaired by the Union Minister for Environment & Forests, with the Project Director as its Member Secretary. It includes non-official and official members experienced in elephant conservation. The Chief Wildlife Wardens of all the 12 states and the Directors, Wildlife Institute of India, ZSI, BSI, and IVRI are permanent invitees.

Project Elephant, a centrally sponsored scheme, enables financial, technical and scientific assistance to be provided to the states for identified items for work that directly or indirectly contribute to ensure the long term survival of elephants in their natural habitat.

The population estimates of wild elephants in the country since the mid '80s are charted out in Table-2. The financial assistance provided to the states under the Project starting with the Eighth Five Year Plan is given in Table-3.

Table - 2

Population estimates of wild elephants in the country since mid 1980

Year    Population Range         Mean
1985    16,560 - 21,361         18,961
1989    17,435 - 23,620         22,845
1993    22,769 - 28,346         25,571

NOTE : The population estimates for the year 1997 have not yet been completed in some of the states and, therefore, the population estimates are currently not available.

In addition to the wild population, there is a population of about 2000 elephants in captivity in the country.

Table - 3

Financial assistance provided to the states under the project from the Eighth Five Year Plan

Year      Allotment          Utilisation
        (Rs. in lakhs)     (Rs. in lakhs)
1991-92     250                 243
1992-93     175                 202
1993-94     500                 559
1994-95     500                 480
1995-96     280                 302
1996-97     410                 450
1997-98     445                 425
1998-99     470                 870

The physical progress so far achieved under the project is broadly indicated below :

Habitat Restoration

a) Plantation for food & cover                          3636 ha
b) Pasture Development                                  2114 ha
c) Land Acquisition                                      151 sq km

Protection and Anti-poaching

a) Patrolling tracks and firelines                       455 km
b) Patrolling Camps                                       31 nos
c) Watch Towers                                           11 nos
d) Wireless sets                                         395 nos
e) Vehicles : 31 motor cycles,  25 cycles, 4 jeeps         3 OBMs
f) Road restoration                                     1533 km
g) Fire arms (Rifles and DBBL)                            77 nos

Conflict Mitigation

a) Energised fencing                                     880 km
b) Elephant Proof trench                                 234.5 km
c) Elephant drives                                   Rs.  49.50 lakhs
d) Capture of displaced elephants (MP)                    11 nos.
e) Capture for control of damage                          32 nos 
f) Ex-gratia relief                                  Rs. 202.20 lakhs
g) Publicity & awareness                             Rs.  77.71 lakhs

Some of the positive impacts of the project are :

a) The Mahananda sanctuary in West Bengal today retains elephants throughout the year as against about one month annually at the beginning of the project.

b) Elephants displaced from Tamil Nadu in 1985-86 have been accommodated in the forests of Andhra Pradesh and restricted to the Kaundinya sanctuary.

c) Human-elephant conflict in Madhya Pradesh resulting from displaced elephants from Bihar has been specifically mititaged.

d) Wild elephants straying towards Calcutta in South-West Bengal have been controlled.

e) There is a downward trend in the loss of human life from human-elephant conflict in the states of Karnataka, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

The major areas of concern yet to be fully addressed under the project include :

a) Inter-state co-ordination for succes-sful implementation of the project, particularly anti-poaching efforts.

b) Rationalisation of human use of various habitats included within the elephant's range of distribution.

c) Problems arising out of displaced and disoriented elephants, resulting from habitat fragmentation and their population growth.

d) Genetic isolation of certain popu-lations and imbalance in the sex ratio.

e) Control of poaching and illegal trade.

These are some of the major prriorities, in addition to the on-going efforts which the project seeks to address in the coming years.

State-wise Population

State                   Minimum         Maximum
Andhra Pradesh            46              46
Arunachal Pradesh       2000            3000
Assam                   5000            6000
Bihar                    500             600
Karnataka               5000            6000
Kerala                  3000            4000
Meghalaya               2500            3000
Orissa                  1500            2000
Tamil Nadu              2300            2500
Uttar Pradesh            750            1000
West Bengal              200             200
Total                  22796           28346
Mean                                   25571

Mortality figures of wild elephants due to poaching and unnaturral deaths

Year          Poaching        Natural          Total       Ivory Pieces
1991-92          61              28              89              46
1992-93          56              77             133              20
1993-94          54             121             175              20
1994-95          33             151             184              26
1995-96          85             215             300             171
1996-97          60             256             316             183
1997-98          28             106             133             148
Total           376             954            1330             614


Elephant (Elphas maximus), more familiarly known as Gajraj, is the largest terrestrial mammal of India. It has been inextricably linked with our history and lore for centuries and has retained its status as a special species, whether in the wild or in captivity. The elephant is considered a symbol of fertility, wealth and abundance. The status of the elephant is a good indicator of the health of the habitat. A habitat which is good for elephants is also good not only for its associate species like sambhar, cheetal, kakar but also for predators such as panthers and tigers. The habitat will also have to be flora-rich to support animal biodiversity. When the forest is good for all these animals, the eco-system is in good condition, which means the water regime is right and so also the condition of the soil.

Because the elephant requires a much larger home range than any other terrestrial animal, it is usually one of the forest species which has to suffer the consequences of habitat fragmentation and destruction. The historical and present day distribution of the elephant in the Indian sub-continent is in many ways a record of the progressive deterioration of the environment in the sub-continent.