Scientists have undertaken a new census of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in India’s Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve (BRT) following almost 30 years of sustained poaching. Estimating that the park contains four female elephants for every male, the scientists warn in a new study in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science that this gender imbalance threatens the population. Poachers target male Asian elephants for their tusks, generally leaving females untouched.
“Most of the adult males appeared to be less than 30 years old, suggesting the disappearance of old bulls due to poaching by forest brigands who operated in the Tiger Reserve for over three decades,” the researchers add. “This has possibly affected the distribution of elephants and resulted in small family units of a mother and dependent offspring in response to anthropogenic pressure which is a serious concern in the BRT.”
Poaching not only upended gender balance in the elephant population, but has also thinned out the herds. Extrapolating from elephants sightings while hiking transects, the scientists estimate that elephant density is likely 1.7 elephants per square kilometer in the park with a total population of around 700 individuals. However in other forests of the Western Ghats elephant density is much higher; for example past studies have found 3.3 elephants per square kilometer in Nagarahole Tiger Reserve and 4.41 elephants per square kilometer in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.
Given the low population density and gender imbalance, the researchers recommend rapid conservation efforts to rebuild the elephant population in Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve.
Asian elephants are listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List due to deforestation, habitat fragmentation, human-wildlife conflict, and poaching for ivory tusks which eventually find their way to black markets in East Asia. India houses over half of the world’s wild Asian elephants population.
CITATION: Kumara, H. N., Rathnakumar, S., Kumar, M.A., and Singh, M. 2012. Estimating Asian elephant, Elephas maximus, density through distance sampling in the tropical forests of Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserve, India. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 5(2):163-172
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