MAY 15

Southern states to protect elephants jointly


CHENNAI: An elephant census is underway in the four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala to evolve a common plan to protect the habitats of the animal, officials said.

"All elephant habitats in the southern states will soon be brought under one umbrella and protected jointly. The combined census in the four southern states is part of that larger effort," said Paul Raj, the top forest official in Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri district, about 350 km from here.

The census in the four states, home to a little over 50 per cent of India's elephant population, is being conducted in collaboration with Bangalore-based Asiatic Elephant Research and Conservation Centre (AERCC) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

The last census in 1997 placed their number in these states at 15,000.

In 1997 Karnataka and Kerala had an equal number of 6,000 elephants each while Tamil Nadu had recorded 3,000. The figures for Andhra Pradesh were not available.

According to preliminary reports, nearly 360 elephants have been counted in the forests of Dharmapuri since the exercise began. For the first time a count of Gaur, a variety of deer, was also being taken.

Census officials are using the global positioning system (GPS) and satellite communication facilities to track herds and count their numbers.

Raj said herds were located in five ranges in the Hosur division bordering Karnataka three ranges in the Dharmapuri division.

He said plans were afoot for a sanctuary in the 1,496-km-long elephant corridor that runs along the borders of the four states.

The census in any area is a three-day process. Three assessments of the same population are made using three methods of counting and averages are worked out.

According to the conservator of the Kodagu forest circle in neighbouring Karnataka, P. Anur Reddy, on the first day a "block count" was done. In this method a specified area is divided into blocks and the elephants are counted in each one of them.

Reddy said on the second day a "waterhole count is taken". The waterholes in a particular area are identified and the animal heads visiting each waterhole counted.

On the third day a "line transect" is done. In this method, an imaginary point-to-point two-km-long line is drawn through an elephant habitat and the numbers of dung heaps on each side of this transect is counted. The averages of these are taken as final numbers, Reddy told mediapersons here.

To be able to really make an accurate assessment, the area has to be counted for five years continuously, officials said.

The final analysis is done by the computer, into which data as to the age of the animal, sex, whether the dung found was old or fresh, its rate of decomposition at the time of counting are fed.

Nearly 300 groups are involved in the census in Tamil Nadu and include forest and veterinary officials and voluntary groups such as the Nilgiris Wildlife and Environment Association.