A Case for Kerala's Missing Elephants

GS-III | Environment & Disaster Management


Why in the news?

Kerala's recent enumeration revealed that the wild elephant population has decreased from 5706 in 2017 to 2386 in 2023, registering a steep decline of 58% in the state.

Possible reasons attributed to the decrease in the population:

1.       Migration of the elephants to other states due to,

a.      destruction of natural habitat

b.      Disruption of elephant corridors

c.       Increased human activities.

2.      Human-animal conflicts in the forest fringe areas, with elephants entering human habitations in search of food, leading to attack on the elephants.

3.      Scarcity of food

a.      Around 1500sq.km of the forest area have been converted into plantations.

b.      Growth of invasive species like wattle and Golden shower tree has served as a threat to Critical wildlife habitats in the regions.

What are the steps taken by the Kerala Government?

1.       A project launched to convert plantations into natural forests.

2.      To shift human settlements from inside the forest to fringe areas.

3.      Wayanad Forest Department's 100Crore Master plan - For removal of invasive species and habitat restoration.

4.      Checking of encroachment and fragmentation of natural habitats by human interference.

5.      Creating awareness among farmers living in forest fringe areas to prevent instances of human-animal conflict and use technological interventions.

About:

Elephants:

1.       The largest land mammals on earth with distinct massive bodies, large ears, and long trunks.

2.      They use their trunks to pick up objects, suck up water for drinking or bathing among other uses

3.      Elephant tusks are its extended teeth used to protect the elephant's trunk, lift and move objects, gather food, and strip bark from trees and also used for defense.

1.       Two genetically different African species exist:



5.      Led by a matriarch, elephants are organized into complex social structures of females and calves

6.      Male elephants usually live in isolation or in small bachelor groups.

7.      A female elephant gives birth to a calf once every four to five years with a gestation period of 22 months—the longest of any mammal.

8.     Calves are cared for by the entire herd of related females and they stay with their maternal herd for the rest of their lives, while males leave the herd as they reach puberty.

9.      Forest elephants' social groups differ slightly and may be comprised of only an adult female and her offspring.

10.  Elephants need extensive land areas to survive and meet their ecological needs, which include food, water, and space. On average, an elephant can feed up to 18 hours and consume hundreds of pounds of plant matter in a single day. As a result, as they lose habitat, they often come into conflict with people in competition for resources.

11.   Significance of elephants

    Elephants maintain forest and savanna ecosystems for other species and are integrally tied to rich biodiversity.

    Ecosystem engineers -They make pathways in dense forested habitat that allow passage for other animals.

    An elephant footprint can also enable a micro-ecosystem that, when filled with water, can provide a home for tadpoles and other organisms.

    Keystone species - helps maintain biodiversity of the ecosystems they inhabit.

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