Bhubaneswar: In the last 19 years in Orissa, 231 elephants fell victim to poachers while 166 were killed in accidents and 173 more died from natural causes, says a wildlife NGO. While the government gives more conservative estimates, experts say there is enough cause for alarm.
Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of NGO Wildlife Society of Orissa, said at least 155 of the elephants died due to electrocution in over 10 years.
"Immediate measures are required if we want to protect the elephants. The animals are dying due to lack of proper measures by the government," a worried Mohanty said.
"Wildlife has little chance to survive due to rapid loss of habitat in the state which is obsessed with mining and industrialisation," he added.
"The State Board for Wildlife, a high-power body chaired by the chief minister, has not met even once in the last two years, though it is mandatory that a meeting takes place every six months," he said.
There has been no meeting of honorary wildlife wardens in the last two years, Mohanty pointed out.
"This clearly reveals the abject apathy of the forest department to engage with wildlife experts and conservationists who can provide valuable inputs and advice for protection of wildlife in the state," he said.
"The department is wary of calling meetings as they might face uncomfortable questions about their abject failure to protect wildlife and allow mining in wildlife-rich areas," he claimed.
Activist Ranjit Pattnaik, another wildlife expert, said: "It is really alarming the way elephants are dying. The central as well as the state governments need to take urgent measures to protect these mammals."
Government figures on elephant deaths are, however, way less.
Orissa chief wildlife warden P.N. Padhi said: "On an average, about 50 elephants died every year in the past 10 years. While about six to seven die from electrocution, about six elephants get poached every year."
"The number of deaths due to accidents is becoming more than those due to poaching. Accidents include electrocution, trains mowing them down and the animals falling into pits," he said.
In the latest incidents, two full grown elephants died of electrocution Sep 6 - one in Dhenkanal district and another in Cuttack.
Most of the accidents take place in Keonjhar, Sundergarh, Sambalpur and Dhenkanal districts.
Orissa is home to 1,886 elephants, according to the census earlier this year. There are three elephant reserves in the state at Mayurbhanj, Mahanadi and Sambalpur.
"We have taken action against forest staff and booked electricians under the wildlife protection act after four elephants died early this year," Padhi said.
Three elephants had been killed due to sagging electric wires in Durlabhpur village in Keonjhar district in August and another died soon after in Ongul district.
"We are sensitising the officials. We started an elephant management plan last year from the state`s own resources. In this plan, we will include four components, including an increase in forest cover, especially habitats of the elephants, habitat protection and anti-poaching measures," he added.