|A wild Asian Elephant in Western Ghats, South India|
Veerappan may be long gone, but poaching still tops the list as the major reason for elephant mortality during the last three decades in the Nilgiris. Trying to untangle the hidden patterns of elephant mortality in the Nilgiris reported during the 33 year period between 1979 to 2011, a new study reveals that 40 percent of the total elephant deaths from the region during the period were due to poaching.
By compiling and analyzing available elephant mortality data from Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Nilgiri North Division and Nilgiri South Division for the period 1979 to 2011, the study looked into the causes of death and pattern of mortality between gender and age groups of elephants.
The results indicate that out of the 291 elephant deaths reported from the region during the period, 116 were killed by poachers. The dirty ivory trade being the major catalyst, tuskers were the major victims of this poaching spree. According to the study which is published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, 82 percent of the tusker deaths in the Nilgiris during the period were due to poaching. However, tuskers are not alone, when it comes to poaching threat. Poaching still contributes to tiger deaths in India, as per an earlier report.
According to the researchers, elephants in the Nilgiris - the area which known to shelter the largest population of Asian elephants in the wild- are still at risk. Though poaching and other human caused incidents contributed to 71 per cent of elephant deaths during 1979 to 2000, it fell drastically during the next decade. However, the mortality pattern in the 2001-2011 periods shows that deaths due to diseases and unknown reasons are on the rise. 69 per cent of total pachyderm deaths during 2001- 2011 period is attributed to diseases and unknown reasons.
Though the reason behind the rise of elephant deaths in this particular category is still enigmatic, researchers do not rule out the possibility of poisoning, diseases and indigestion caused by plastic waste presence in the Nilgiris, especially in places frequented by tourists being an indirect cause.