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2023 Report: An Examination of Indian Elephant Electrocutions, Poaching, and Mortality Rates

India, which hosts one of the biggest populations of Asian elephants globally, has seen a tragic loss of 1,381 elephants from 2009 to 2023

By Ground Report
New Update
2023 Report: An Examination of Indian Elephant Electrocutions, Poaching, and Mortality Rates

India, which hosts one of the biggest populations of Asian elephants globally, has seen a tragic loss of 1,381 elephants from 2009 to 2023 due to unnatural reasons such as electrocution and poisoning. Electrocution stands as the leading cause of these elephant deaths, accounting for 898 cases.

In a report on Indian elephant populations, it has been revealed that over 1300 elephants have succumbed to unnatural causes in the past 14 years, shedding light on the urgent need for conservation measures. The data, obtained through RTI requests, underscores the threats faced by these majestic creatures, with causes ranging from electrocution to poisoning.

elephant electrocution in india
Elephant deaths elephant poaching

States in the eastern and northeastern region of the country count for most of these deaths. This happens because elephants are expanding their bases all across the country and moving from forests towards agricultural areas.

Indian Elephant Mortality Rates in 2023

The RTI data analysis has shown that in 2022-23, a record number of 100 elephants died due to electrocution. The majority of these deaths occurred in Odisha (26), followed by Karnataka (15), Tamil Nadu (14), Chhattisgarh (9), Assam (8), Kerala (7), Jharkhand (6), Andhra Pradesh (5), and West Bengal (5). Uttarakhand reported three elephant deaths due to electrocution during the same year.

elephant deaths in India 2023 data

In comparison, there were 81 and 69 deaths due to electrocution in 2018-19 and 2017-18 respectively, while 65 elephants died from electric shock in both 2009-10 and 2020-21.

Electrocution poses a significant hazard to elephants, with reports indicating that 270 elephants fell victim to this perilous fate in just three years. The risk is exacerbated by human activities such as illegal electrified fences and power lines, leading to tragic consequences for the endangered Asian elephant species.

According to a study by Cambridge University, there was an annual average of 9.8 elephant deaths due to electrocution in Odisha. Arivazhagan & Ramakrishnan found that in Tamil Nadu, electrocution accounted for over 50% of elephant deaths. These elephants were predominantly males aged between 15 and 25 years.

The study also revealed that elephants in the very old age group (61-80 years) represented only 1.9% of the total deaths. Among these 20 elephants, 11 were males and 9 were females. This suggests that only 2.3% of male and 1.6% of female elephants lived to their full lifespan.

Singh & Arora (2004) reported that in Kaziranga National Park, the average survival age for male elephants was 41.3 years, while for females it was 38.7 years.

Poaching of Elephants in India in 2023

Over the past three years, India has seen 90 instances of elephant tusk or ivory seizures, along with 29 instances of elephant poaching, according to data shared by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) in the Lok Sabha on August 8, 2023.

The year 2021 saw the highest number of elephant tusk seizures, with 42 cases, and the highest number of poaching incidents, with 14 reported across the country. Meghalaya alone accounted for half of the poaching deaths that year. In the 2018-19 period, six elephant deaths due to poaching were reported, and nine were reported in 2019-20.

Elephant deaths elephant poaching

Odisha, a region grappling with significant human-elephant conflict, has seen seven elephant deaths due to poaching in the last three years. Meanwhile, Meghalaya accounted for 12 poaching deaths, and Tamil Nadu reported three. This data was presented by Ashwini Kumar Choubey, the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, in response to a question posed by five MPs.

Despite a ban on ivory trafficking in India since 1986, the illicit trade persists. Data from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau indicates that approximately 475 kg of raw ivory and 385 ivory artifacts have been seized from poachers or traders in the country over the past five years.

Poachers are responsible for the deaths of about 20,000 elephants annually worldwide, their tusks traded illegally on the international market to become ivory trinkets. This trade is largely fueled by demand for ivory in certain parts of Asia.

Habitat loss, illegal collection, habitat degradation

The Ministry stated in a Parliament response on July 25 in 2023 that the primary causes of human-wildlife conflicts include habitat loss, increasing wild animal populations, changes in cropping patterns that attract wild animals to farmlands, migration of wild animals from forests to human-dominated landscapes for food and fodder, illegal collection of forest produce by humans, and habitat degradation due to the spread of invasive alien species.

The Parliament’s standing committee on Environment and Forests acknowledged the human-animal conflict in its March 2023 report. The Committee emphasized the importance of Project Tiger and Project Elephant to the Ministry’s wildlife conservation efforts, both ecologically and socio-economically. The Committee urged the Ministry to focus more on these projects and allocate more funds to meet necessary expenditures, given the increasing reports of human-animal conflicts.

The Ministry provides financial assistance to States/Union Territories under the Centrally Sponsored Schemes of ‘Development of Wildlife Habitats’, ‘Project Tiger’, and ‘Project Elephant’. This assistance supports activities such as the creation and maintenance of water holes for wild animals in Protected Areas, soil and moisture conservation measures, establishment of anti-poaching camps, strengthening of wildlife veterinary care, eradication of weeds, creation and maintenance of fire lines, and deployment of Tiger Protection Force and special Tiger Protection Force.

Wildlife experts and academics are advocating for legal protection for India’s elephant reserves (ERs) to protect the country’s estimated 29,000 elephants from increasing human pressures.

Data from the Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII) ongoing ‘Elephants in Changing Landscape’ project reveals a worrying statistic - a massive 10,790 kilometres of roads and 1,340 kilometres of railway lines intersect with the country’s elephant reserves.

elephant deaths in india 2023 data
Elephant deaths elephant poaching. Credit: Creativecommons.org

Experts are concerned about the fragmentation of the 33 elephant reserves in the country due to roads, rail networks, agriculture near forest fringes, and other developmental activities.

Implications for Conservation

Sometimes, elephant deaths are not properly looked into or are labeled as "unknown" or "natural" when they are actually due to electrocution. This is a significant issue, especially when elephants are deliberately electrocuted, as it can harm local elephant populations and pose risks to humans as well.

In many cases, there are no visible signs on the elephant's body, and there may be no electric fence visible at the site. Identifying and addressing these cases is crucial.

The study found several deadly electric fences, some of which were in designated forest areas. It's important to regularly check and monitor places where people set up electric fences. Taking action, like monitoring forests, enforcing strict laws against lethal fences, rehabilitating those who encroach on these areas, and involving various stakeholders (such as the Assam State Power Distribution Company Limited, tea plantation managers, communities, and NGOs), can significantly contribute to the conservation of elephants and their habitats.

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