The three-day census of elephants began simultaneously in four states, including Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Chattisgarh, on Wednesday. This is for the first time when ‘dung-decay’ method is being used in Jharkhand sanctuaries for the elephant count.
The state forest department has formed a number of teams in Jharkhand’s sanctuaries such as Palamu Tiger Reserve (PTR) and Dalma wildlife sanctuaries to ascertain more actual count. Altogether 98 teams, each comprising four members, have been formed only in PTR for the census.
Forest officials said the objective of the census was to know the current status of elephants — whether their numbers have risen in last five years or declined compared to last census. In the backdrop of rising human-elephant conflicts, the census would help understand their movement and routes. In Jharkhand, 589 people were killed in last 10 years in human-elephant conflicts.
Principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), LR Singh said, “The most important feature of this year’s census is involvement of neighbouring states. Elephants are migratory animals, which leads to repetition of counting.”
In the census last conducted in 2012, the jumbo population in Jharkhand was 688.
Singh said, “The elephants will be counted by four methods— block counting, direct sighting, dung-decay and waterhole counting,” adding, the dung-decay method would be used in PTR on Thursday and efforts were being made to use the method also in Dalma sanctuary.
“This a new method of elephant count, which was first used in south India. Now, the central wing of forest wants to apply the method in census across the country. For this, PTR has been selected,” he said.
PTR director MP Singh said, “We carried block and direct sighting census on Wednesday. However, on Thursday the dung decay method will be used. For this, professor Sukumar of Indian Institute of Science, project elephant director RK Srivastava and joint director CP Thomas are arriving at PTR.”
He said dung-decay method is used to get more accurate data. “In direct sighting method, it is possible that some elephants go missing from the count due to their non visibility in dense forest. With dung-decay method, we will get more accurate figure,” he said.
Explaining the method, the PTR director said various factors were observed in the method, including dung density, decay rate and defecation rate. “Fresh piles of elephant dung is marked in an area. Thereafter, photograph is taken and GPS location is recorded. The marked dung area is revisited after a certain period to understand decay rate of dung,” he said.
Singh said experts use set formulas to identify number of elephants through dung decay rate.
Meanwhile, pachyderms went on the rampage at Tetratoli village of Gumla district on Wednesday damaging around half a dozen houses there. However, no casualty was reported. The villagers demanded compensation from the forest department.