Bangalore, May 28: The Karnataka forest department is grappling with dehydration-related deaths of wild elephants in a reserve forest teeming with pachyderms.The situation is such that 24 elephants have died between January and May this year in the Nagarhole forest, around 230km south of Bangalore.
The post-mortem on the carcasses indicated they died of dehydration-related problems. Only 13 deaths, mostly because of old age, were recorded during the same period in 2011.“Our animal health experts have found that many of these elephants died because of stomach infections after drinking contaminated water,” said chief conservator of forests Ajai Mishra. With the water holes drying up, wild animals, including elephants, drink whatever they find.
The official explanation is that the watering holes dried up for lack of summer rain, which the state usually gets aplenty. But this year’s excessive heat — when even the “salubrious” Bangalore sizzled at nearly 40 degrees Celsius — has only added to the woes of man and animal alike. The state is criticised every year for “poor handling” of water supplies to the people, especially in northern Karnataka where the shortage is acute. But wild animals, entirely dependent on water holes, are left with no alternative but wait for the monsoon.
A recent three-day census of the elephant population in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Maharashtra could throw up more details on the numbers, but the death of so many pachyderms in such a short span of time has left the officials worried.An elephant census conducted five years ago had put the all-India number at 27,694. Of this, Karnataka had the most number of elephants, around 5,900. The entire Nilgiri biosphere reserve of nearly 14,000sqkm, which stretches into neighbouring Kerala and Tamil Nadu, is home to nearly 8,000 elephants.
The Nilgiri reserve includes the 640sqkm Nagarhole forest.
However, Ajay Desai, a wildlife expert and former member of a task force on elephants, said there could be other reasons for the deaths. “Elephants, like humans, die of old age and diseases. So we need to keep that in mind. But this year has been extremely bad for wildlife and lack of rain is just one the issues,” Desai told The Telegraph. The severe drought has also affected the regeneration of foliage that elephants feed on.