Elephants in Odisha are facing an uncertain future and are almost on the brink of extinction, according to wildlife experts.
The last census in Odisha was carried out about five years ago between 9 and 12 May 2017. Of a total 1,976 elephants, 344 were found to be adult males. Since then, in a little over five years, the state has lost 104 male elephants above the age of 15, mostly to poaching and unnatural deaths like electrocution, poisoning, train kill, and road kill.
“On an average, we lose over 20 adult elephants per year. At this rate, we may see Odisha’s elephant population rapidly getting wiped out from many elephant landscapes. Some of the districts like Ganjam, Khurda, Kalahandi, Boudh, and Subarnapur could already be facing such a situation,” Biswajit Mohanty of Odisha Wildlife Society of Orissa said.
Particularly, Ganjam has lost almost all adult males in the last five years. The district appears to have already reached a critical stage after one of the last adult male elephants was found dead in Jagannath Prasad Range of Ghumsur North Division on 20 July 2022. There could just be one adult male in Ghumsur division.
There are serious concerns on the sustainability of the elephant population in this district since there could only be one adult matured male. He faces a daily threat of electrocution and poaching since the patrolling and protection system of the forest department has collapsed due to lack of supervision and accountability. Nobody knows what happens to the crores of public funds allocated to elephant protection by the forest department.
It has been observed that the Ghumsur elephant population has largely kept themselves confined to the geography of the two divisions; hence, chances of meeting and mating adult males from adjacent districts is remote as of now. If the remaining male also falls prey to poaching or electrocution, it could spell doom for Ganjam elephants.
Wildlife experts blame poor patrolling and lack of stern action against erring forest officials for the decline in elephant numbers in the state.
For the health and sustainability of an elephant population, the presence of adult bull elephants, above the age of 18 to 20, is a necessity. Like most living beings including humans, the elephants must have matured and have healthy parents to produce healthy offspring who are strong, immune to diseases, and can survive the tough living conditions of the wild.
Poaching and unnatural deaths of adult breeding males in large numbers has created a skewed male-female ratio in Odisha. This leads to a decline in birth rate.
Adult males migrate longer distances, sometimes all alone, mix and mingle with other herds, and create fresh gene pools. Their absence in a herd will also lead to inbreeding among immature males and females, resulting in weak offspring and immature mortality.
Studies have shown that an extremely low number of adult males in the populations could also lead to barren adult females, having failed to procreate for a long time.