Thursday, February 16, 2006

Elephant News

[Above] 'Rogue Elephant' - a hand-tinted photograph. Produced by Gathered Images of Brighton. [HQInfo Postcard Archive]

The situation facing the Asian elephant is critical. Just over 5 percent of the original Asian elephant habitat remains today, and its population has declined over the past half century to an estimated 30,000–50,000 animals in the wild. This is only 10-15% of the African elephant population. Country populations vary from perhaps less than 100 in Vietnam to over 20,000 in India, but many population estimates are little more than guesses. It is now threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

To address the main issues threatening the survival of the Asian elephant, the 13 Asian countries which still have wild populations came together for the first time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 24–26 January 2006. The meeting, convened by the Government of Malaysia, was facilitated by the
World Conservation Union (IUCN), and in particular its Species Survival Commission (SSC). Regional consensus on ways to secure the species’ future was the main aim of the meeting and the need for transboundary cooperation was highlighted throughout the discussions.

One of the main contributing factors to the elephant’s decline is the increase in human–elephant conflicts, which result in the death of several hundred animals and people every year, as well as damage to properties.

This rise has become inevitable as Asian elephants have less and less natural habitat in which to feed and roam. Just 500,000 sq km of the former Asian elephant habitat remains today –out of an original 9 million sq km. South and Southeast Asia have the highest human population density in the world, and it is still increasing by 1-3 percent every year. This results in accelerated conversion of forest and other elephant habitat into agriculture and settlements, disrupting traditional elephant paths and reducing their food supply.

Human-elephant conflict is now the major cause of individual elephant deaths, through indiscriminate poisoning, shooting and trapping. It is therefore critical to find ways to minimize this conflict and integrate these strategies into land use to ensure the long term survival of the species.

In addition, the recognition of elephants as an economic asset instead of an agricultural pest, and realistic compensation payments to farmers for elephant damage would encourage local people to be more tolerant of them living in their neighbourhood.

Other threats include selective poaching of tusked males for ivory, which results in skewed male-female ratios in many populations. While ivory is the main target for poachers, meat, hide, tail hair, bones and teeth are also traded, making elephants a particularly attractive target. Illegal killing has significantly reduced populations over wide areas.

According to Ian Sample, science correspondent of The Guardian: 'Intense poaching by ivory hunters has caused a dramatic shift in the gene pool of Asian elephants, leading to a steep rise in tuskless herds. Asian elephants are under more intense pressure from ivory hunters than their largerAfrican cousins... Male elephants usually grow tusks, but typically around 2-5% have a genetic quirk that means they will remain tuskless. By killing elephants for their ivory, poachers make it more likely that tuskless elephants will mate and pass on the quirk to the next generation.' Herds in China have been found in which up to 10% of the males are tuskless. See: 'Poaching leads to more tuskless elephants.'

See: Indonesia uses chillies to protect elephants (Reuters 03 Mar 2006 )

Asia battles to save endangered elephants (Reuters 03 Mar 2006 )

'A baby elephant returns to its home in West Bengal'
This delightfully expressed first-hand report comes from

'It is a special day for this rowdy pachyderm, rescued and released in the wild by Indian forest officers recently. After nearly a week of training and some serious taming, the large sized baby is all set to return home. The over nine-feet tall jumbo was rescued minutes before being poisoned by villagers like in a dramatic manner like any Bollywood film, by forest officials.

'The pachyderm had strayed into the village bordering the dense forests of nearby Midnapore region, lured by ripe paddy and tons of rice bear being brewed by the local for an annual festival.
The rowdy elephant, officials said, had refused to be bogged down by barbed wire fencing. He even tided over broom beatings by the locals, who had eventually decided to poison it just before when forest officials stepped in.

'The animal was transported from the village to the main Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and was released into the wild after first aid and specialised training to avoid village landmarks. But the over 12-kilometer journey to the interiors of the sprawling sanctuary has been anything but easy and the animal, which was transported on a container truck, was given frequent baths, to keep him calm. The vagabond tusker has now been fitted with a radio collar so that his movements can be tracked.

"Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary has got a very good forest cover and also houses a lot of migrant elephants which are here in north Bengal. We hope that since this elephant was not getting enough forest cover in southern parts of Bengal. But here we have better forest cover, so we hope that it will stay in this forest," says P.T. Bhutia, Chief Conservator of Forests, West Bengal Government.

'The jungles in the northeastern parts of India are one of the last significant refuges of the mainland variety, Elephas maximus. But with the increase in population and logging have bitten badly into that refuge. Many of the protected forests exist; many of them are either too small or poorly protected, and too scattered to support large herds. Often, the pachyderms find migration routes blocked by villages, canals, and railway lines.

'Recent studies say the animals are increasingly going on rampage in the villages and dozens emerge from the jungle every year to take advantage of the paddy harvest, others have discovered a taste for local liquor and drink everything they can lay their trunks on. (ANI)

FUTHER INFORMATION: Good global overview on elephants here: . Go to Science & Nature > Animals > Conservation > Elephants

NEW BOOK: 'Seeing the Elephant: The Ties that Bind Elephants and Humans'' by Eric Scigliano [Bloomsbury, London 2006]

Elephants can mimic sounds

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