Jamshedpur, Jharkhand: A three-day synchronised elephant census is going on in four states of Jharkhand, Bengal, Odisha and Chhattisgarh today to avoid duplication and arrive at a more accurate count for the first time in India.
Part of the 7th All India Elephant Census under Project Elephant, the census is deploying an identical set of rules for counting – direct (sightings) and indirect (dung decay analysis) – for the four states that host the largest number of elephants in India after the south.
The days around the full moon will enable easier sightings, it is felt.
Raman Sukumar, elephant expert from Bangalore-based Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, who is assisting the four states, said global positioning system (GPS) and geographical information system (GIS) would be used for accuracy. “Data collected by GPS in all four states will be transferred to the GIS computer software to map everything related to actual location of elephants and dung decay,” he said.
In Jharkhand, which reportedly has about 700 jumbos, , the census began in 36 forest divisions – 31 territorial and 5 wildlife – principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) L.R. Singh said. “We divided forest divisions under high, medium, low and no categories based on frequency of elephant visits.”
Elaborating on the process, he said: “Direct counting is based on sighting while dung decay is an indirect statistical method. Sighting, which includes clicking pictures, help determine the structure of herds, number of males, females and calves. Decay rate of dung is monitored to arrive at elephant numbers in specific pockets.”
No elephant was sighted at Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary on Jamshedpur outskirts, one of Jharkhand’s main elephant habitats on the first day.
Though chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Anand Mohan Sharma said local eco-development committee members, who know the area like the back of their hand, were active in the census, deputy conservator of forests-cum-field director of Project Elephant V. Baskaran said few elephants were at Dalma currently. “Most were in Bengal.”
Kolhan divisional forest officer Vinay Kant Mishra said they focussed on Khuntpani near Chaibasa and Chakradharpur in West Singhbhum. Seraikela-Kharsawan range officer Suresh Prasad said a herd of 15 was sighted near a waterbody at Manikui.
In Bengal, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, nine, 44 and 45 forest divisions are involved in the count.
Together, the four states have the largest number of human-elephant conflict-prone zones in India.
Under the 2015 census, Odisha had 1,954 wild elephants, Jharkhand 700, Chhattisgarh 275 and Bengal 130. But, in Jharkhand at least, field officials relied only on direct counting. The entire area couldn’t practically be covered and population was underestimated in some places while duplication was reported elsewhere.
Sukumar said the elephant census would be held in South India from May 16 to 19 and in North India from May 23 to 26.