There were 3,000 extra elephants in India in 2012, but only on paper. An error that combined direct and indirect count methods for the state of Kerala showed an inflated figure of 30,000 elephants across the country. Five years later, the count is 27,312 elephants based on Forest Department officials who “saw it” across four geographical regions in India. This prompted elephant expert Raman Sukumar to say on Saturday: “If I do a comparison with 2012 figures, then we have a stable population.”
Sukumar, a professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, was the technical adviser for the ‘Synchronised Elephant Population Estimation 2017’ — the preliminary findings for it were released Saturday. According to this census prepared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change by direct block count method during March-May 2017, there are 10,139 elephants in India’s northeast region, 3,128 in east-central region, 2,085 in northwest and 11,960 in the southern region. At 6,049, Karnataka has the maximum.
This, ministry officials said, were only preliminary findings in ongoing work, on the “basis of data made available by the state forest departments”. Even within this there are gaps —- “reliable information on elephant distribution area is lacking in some states or forest divisions within a state”, the report said.
“In particular, no trend information should be made for individual forest divisions or states from these results. In 2017 there were major shifts in dry season habitat used by elephants in the south because of a severe drought in the previous year.”
What remains to be analysed is data from the indirect dung count method — an estimate that has been in use since 2002 in southern India now adopted across the country. “This was the first time we used the dung density count across the country,” Sukumar told The Indian Express. “Through the dung density estimate we have tried to bring a little more science into the census taking process.”
Sukumar pointed out that elephants leave behind signs. “The obvious one being dung. They defecate 14-18 times a day,” he said. “We use what is a well-known statistical method — the line transact method — to make an estimate of dung density. This is a similar method used to get estimates for tiger populations too,” he said.
The Wildlife Trust of India has identified 101 elephant corridors in the country of which six have been secured. Union Minister for Environment Harsh Vardhan, who released the census, asked that a strategy be prepared for a “more even distribution of elephant population in all states of the country.”