Infighting in Corbett Reserve led to death of 21 elephants, 9 tigers in last five years
A study on wildlife deaths in Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) has found that 21 elephants, nine tigers and six leopards have died due to infighting in last five years.
Of the 21 tuskers killed, 13 calves were killed by tigers while no tiger was killed by the elephants.
Park officials said tigers like elephant meat and have been seen even eating carcasses of elephants which died while fighting each other. Tigers are solitary hunters unlike lions attacking in a pride. It is quite difficult and challenging to attack an elephant herd, separate the young elephants/calves and then kill and eat them. However, this study has found that in three cases, two tigers killed the calves together.
Sanjeev Chaturvedi, officiating field director Corbett Tiger Reserve said the trigger point of the study was the May 27 incident in which a tigress was killed in infighting. “So I decided that this trend of inter and intra-species infighting mortality in tigers, elephants and leopards needed to be studied for the last five years. So finally, the data was collected for a period of around five years from April 1, 2014, to May 31, 2019,” he said.
“The data threw some surprising results. Of 36 deaths due to infighting, 21 were reported in case of wild elephants alone. Of these 21, 13 elephants were killed in tiger attacks. This trend may be because of comparatively large quantum of meat availability in elephant kills and the less energy required for securing such a large amount of food compared to energy spent in hunting species like sambar deer, chital deer and other herbivores,” he said.
He added that it was reported that even in cases where elephants were killed in infighting, tigers were found eating their body parts. “This peculiar aspect of tiger-elephant conflict needs to be studied further,” he said.
Corbett is the main bastion of the tuskers in the Himalayan state. Uttarakhand has 1,797 elephants, with 1,035 in CTR landscape alone, according to wild elephant population, an estimation carried out in 2015 by the state forest department.
This trend has surprised wildlife officials as they were mostly worried about the emerging aggression among the elephants in the CTR landscape, where some of the tuskers have become habituated of attacking vehicles for food items on nearly 20 to 25 km road stretch near CTR.
Chaturvedi said of nine tiger deaths due to infighting, seven were due to infighting among themselves primarily due to mating issues and territorial fights. “In two other cases, one tiger had died in a wild boar attack and another due to spines from a porcupine. A detailed study about the extent of average territorial area, moving pattern and adequacy of present tiger reserve area needs to be studied.
“In the case of six leopard deaths due to infighting, four were due to attack by other carnivores. Of four such cases, in two, there was definite evidence of killing by tigers, while in the other two, the exact species which killed them could not be established,” he said.
Changes in Corbett landscape is affecting wildlife in the area in varying degrees according to some experts. Over the quarter of a century (1990 to 2015), the forest cover in the buffer of Corbett Tiger Reserve has shrunk from 55% to 43 %, while the area under the human settlements has increased from over 4% to 9% and that of agriculture from nearly 26% to 31 %, according to a study conducted by Prayag Madhukar Dhakate (chief conservator of forests western circle) and Shah M Belal (scientist ) from the state forest department based on remote sensing data of changes in land usage and land cover in the 10 km stretch of the buffer around the core of Corbett.
VB Mathur, director, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, said such a trend was not a normal occurrence. “We haven’t come across such a trend in the state so far. There are cases where tigers have attacked or killed elephants calves, but in Corbett the numbers are quite significant. This needs to be studied further.
Mathur said one possible reason could be that both elephant and tiger numbers have increased in Corbett landscape. “With habitat of over a thousand elephants and over 215 tigers almost totally overlapping in Corbett, the chances of tiger attacks on elephants may increase. But then there should be cases of elephants killing the tigers also, which the data shows has not happened there in the study period. So I think this trend needs to be studied more by the experts to see what are the underlying factors,” he added.