After tigers, the elephants have caught attention of poachers, especially in Orissa.
Of the 40 elephants deaths reported in Orissa since April this year, half have reportedly been killed by poachers. And, in all these cases, the tusks and other essential parts of the elephants were removed in the most gruesome manner, which experts say can only be the handiwork of poachers.
In some cases, usage of new tools to excavate the tusks have also been observed, which indicates the involvement of international ivory smuggling rings.
In the last ten days alone, six elephant deaths have been reported, of which four are believed to be result of poaching.
These deaths have been reported from Puranakote, Mahulkhulia forests and Kuldiha wildlife sanctuary. Alarmed by the sudden surge in poaching cases, the Orissa government has asked the state crime branch to investigate the huge number of elephant deaths.
The wild of Orissa turning unsafe for elephants could be gauged from the fact that only nine elephants were killed by poachers in 2005.
"In the past four-five months, relatively higher number of elephant killings have been reported," said Biswajit Mohanty, Chief Wildlife Warden of Orissa.
But, he was quick to add that the forest department has taken precautionary measures and has beefed up security in areas frequented by elephant. "Surveillance of each elephant is being provided and locals are being involved for protecting them," he said.
But, the news of poaching from Orissa has come as a bolt from blue to wildlife conservationlists and officials of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
A team of Wildlife Institute of India and officials from Indian Institute of Science are being dispatched to analyse the situation.
The government has also alerted other elephant reserves in the country and have instructed them to improve security measures. "Few cases of poaching of elephants are regularly reported from all parts of the country but Orissa's situation is disturbing," said an official in Project Elephant.
Ashok Kumar, chief of Wildlife Trust of India, termed the situation in Orissa as alarming. "It was only in 1996 (when 23 elephants were poached) that poaching of elephants of such a magnitude was reported. It indicates resurgence of ivory demand from countries like Japan, which the consumption is huge," he said.
An expert in elephant ecology, Professor Raman Sukumar of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, agreed with him and said it appears an international smuggling ring has become active in Orissa.