Bhubaneswar: After the death of three elephants in Odisha’s northern Keonjhar district on Thursday, wildlife experts have expressed fresh concerns over the safety of the pachyderms in the state and their dwindling numbers. The animals died after they were hit by speeding heavy vehicles.
A one-year-old elephant calf and a 15-year-old female elephant were found dead on National Highway 20 near Balijodi under Ghatagaon forest range on Thursday morning. Another female, aged about 20, was found injured and struggling for life a few metres away.
A truck that allegedly hit the animals the previous night had skidded off the road. A probe by forest department officials and police later also found a bus in Barbil that was involved in the accident and had fled the scene. The bus, ironically, was named ‘Airavat’, the mythological elephant. Both vehicles were seized.
Forest department officials said it was possible that the three animals were hit separately by the speeding truck and the bus. They were understood to be part of a 10-member herd that was crossing the road one when the accidents took place sometime after midnight.
“The injured elephant, who had a fractured leg, was provided medical treatment, but we failed to save her life,” said Keonjhar Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Santosh Joshi, who visited the spot and pacified irate people staging a demonstration.
“Our staff had tracked the movement of this herd of 10 elephants last at midnight. The herd seems to have split in two sometime later and moved in separate directions. The other seven elephants are still in the forest and safe,” he added.
This is the second major casualty of elephants in a single mishap in 10 months in Odisha. Seven elephants were electrocuted after coming in touch with low-hanging 11 KV electric wires in Dhenkanal last October.
The latest incident, coming 10 days after World Elephant Day was celebrated, shocked wildlife experts, who said Odisha has turned into a “graveyard for elephants”. They called for wholehearted initiatives by the state government to protect the animals.
The elephant mortality rate is the highest in Odisha — data available for the past 29 years (from 1990 to 2019) shows that as many as 1,500 elephants died in the state. Of these, as many as 721 deaths took place since 2000.
The last fiscal of 2018-19 has been the worst, with 87 elephants having died in the state. Of these 87 deaths, which was the highest number in a decade, only three occurred due to natural reasons. While there were 112 elephants in Keonjhar district in 2002, their number has dwindled to only about 40 this year, said forest department officials.
“If this incident does not wake up the state government, nothing else will. Elephants in Odisha are currently having the most difficult life. Their homes are getting encroached upon by mining activities, agriculture, industrialisation, and urbanisation. They are constantly losing their traditional areas of free movement,” said noted conservationist Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Odisha.
Odisha Environmental Society President Sundara Narayana Patro said, “It is time the state’s forest and wildlife departments formulated a comprehensive mechanism to prevent the frequent accidental deaths of elephants and to end the menace of poaching.”
(With inputs from Avaya Mohapatra)
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