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How prevalent is elephant deaths in India?
- There are some 27,300 wild elephants in India. This accounts for more than 50% of the global population of Asian elephants.
- According to the Project Elephant division of the environment ministry, 1,160 elephants have died, due to causes other than natural causes, over a period of 11 years (till December 2020). Of these deaths:
- In the recent days, 5 elephants died after collision with trains. This occurred in a period of 1 week. These occurred in Tamil Nadu and Assam. Both the accidents occurred at night.
- According to the CAG’s compliance audit report on the railway ministry, the highest number of elephant deaths are reported in the elephant corridors.
What are the possible solutions?
- With regards to deaths due to electrocution and train deaths, there are effective solutions.
- In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, hanging solar-powered fences are under plan. These are better options than barbed wire fences and electric fences.
- In Golaghat region of Assam, planting of citronella and lemon grass plants are used to deter elephants.
- Local community participation is vital for reducing elephant deaths in India. This can be encouraged by highlighting the crucial role of these animals in biodiversity conservation. Such awareness creation should be targeted mainly at those living close to elephant corridors.
- The ministries of railways and environment needs to expedite the proposals for eco-bridges (elevated wildlife crossings) and under-passes to enable the safe crossing of animals. This is supported by the CAG report that underpasses and overpasses in the jurisdictions of East Central and Northeast Frontier Railways, has helped eliminate elephant deaths.
- The CAG has put forth other recommendations such as:
- Periodic review of elephant passage identification
- Sensitization programs for railway staff
- Standardization of track signage
- Installation of transmitter collars/ animal detection system
- Devices that emit honey bee sounds to deter elephants away from railway tracks
- Some 14,580 elephants are in the southern region. The southern states’ governments and the central government need to coordinate and formulate lasting solution to the issue of conflicts between people and elephants.
Elephant deaths are not new in India. However, these deaths are increasingly being caused by electrocution and railway accidents, instead of the usual reasons like poaching. Given the rising pace of urbanization and infrastructure development, there is an urgent need to formulate lasting solution to address man-animal conflict.