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
Tracking elephants in Cameroon to mitigate conflict with locals
(07/09/2012) Elephant conservation is imperiled by poor spatial planning, according to a new study in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Society. Tracking two elephant matriarchs in and around Bénoué National Park in Cameroon, scientists found that the herds spent over half their time outside of the park, highlighting the potential for human-wildlife conflict as elephants are known to raid fields.
(07/05/2012) Officials have pointed to an infamous elephant poacher known as ‘Morgan’ as the head of the murderous attack at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) late last month. The attack by Morgan and his crew left seven people dead, including two wildlife rangers. The poachers also shot dead 13 captive okapis at the headquarters, which were considered ambassadors for the imperiled forest. One okapi remains alive, but injured and conservationists are not optimistic about its survival. UNESCO and the the NGO Fauna and Flora international have issued an emergency appeal to raise $120,000 dollars within two weeks for the victim’s families as well as for rapidly rebuilding the station.
(07/02/2012) Last week, the west African nation of Gabon committed over 1,200 ivory tusks and carvings to the fire. The act, which was meant to send a strong signal to illegal wildlife poachers across Africa, came only a few days after militia poachers stormed the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The assailants killed 13 okapis and six people, including two wildlife rangers, in retaliation for a crackdown against poaching and mining in the protected area. Poaching has reached epidemic levels in Africa due to increasing bushmeat consumption and a rise in East Asian demand for black-market ivory and rhino horns.
(06/08/2012) Elephant numbers in areas surveyed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Central Africa halved between 2006 and 2011, hinting at the carnage wrought by the surging commercial ivory trade and demonstrating a need to boost protection efforts, said the Bronx Zoo-based conservation group.