India is a land of contrasts. One of the biggest testimonies to this fact is the plight of elephants in our country. Revered as god this species is older than history and has weathered many a seasons of evolution but today it faces an uncertain future and sadly humans own the copyright to the decadence of its numbers. As India faces one of its toughest challenges in conservation, Karnataka emerges to be one of the last frontiers that still fortify hope for these tuskers.
Elephants are like an encyclopedia of the forest. It is shameful that a bullet or two reduces this magnificent animal into nothing more than bones and ashes. If life is as old as death the cycle repeats far more frequently with the ivory carriers than the other variants of the species. Like Karnataka gives hope to the finest progeny of tuskers it also amplifies an inchoate desperation of conserving and saving them.
Bandipur and Nagarhole are two major belts of forest that further filters the address of the Indian Tuskers. The success of the state in tiger conservation has hit the international headlines, but its effort in conserving the pachyderms has also been equally commendable.
Karnataka is still one of the few places in India that can pride itself in having good animal corridors-a pre-requisite for good conservation strategy. It is particularly interesting to know that during summer elephants from 3 states-Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala migrate to the Kabini backwaters (part of Nagarhole National Park) in search of water proffering us a grand visual delight as the largest elephant congregation in Asia happens here.
The earliest instances of poaching in the state were reported from the forest range of Biligiriranga Hills during 1980s. One of the worst debacles of poaching from the state was reported in 1982 were around a dozen elephants were shot down in the Satyamangalam division.
Initially the incidences were left un-reported as the guards and forest officer feared that they might lose their job if the unfortunate event came to light. When there was an instance of poaching that was put on record it was not uncommon where the cost of the ivory was cut from the officer’s salary. This muted the protectors and further emboldened the poachers as they made deeper inroads and took down the best tuskers-one by one.
The poachers fretted inside the deepest woods where there are no human trails. They targeted and killed the majestic bulls and hacked the visible portion or used quick-lime or acid to take out the complete tusks.
While poverty, lust and greed were the main reasons behind such a massacre another factor equally contributed to the slaughter was the ripening business of ivory carvers. India boasted of some of the finest skillset and according to some old records there were almost around 7000 of these craftsmen of which most of them belonged to the southern part of India.
It is known that the earliest supply of elephants tusks came from Ethiopia dating back to almost sixth century B.C. Post-independence most of these tusks were supplied from Africa, However due to the increasing customs that demand took a hit-the brunt of which the Indian elephants had to take the paradigm shift in the business spelled doom for the Tuskers.
In a survey it was found that from 1974 to 1998 around 57 elephants from Bandipur Tiger Reserve were reported to be poached. Apart from poaching, habitat fragmentation, loss of corridors, diminishing green cover and the uncontrolled surge in human population have become the contributing factors behind the increased man-animal conflicts and subsequent loss of this royal species.
According to a report as published by Wildlife Trust of India around 65 percent of the elephant corridors fall among continuous forest in Southern India while in Central India it is only 10 percent. This happens to be one of the key factors that has resulted Karnataka in being a tusker haven.
Today, according to the latest census report-Karnataka houses around 6,000 elephants out of which 53% of them are adults. From the aforesaid percentage around 14% -15% of the individuals would constitute the tusker population of the state.
With awareness being articulated within the society a mosaic of threats still looms large on these beautiful tuskers of India. It calls for an integrated approach and greater political and social will to mitigate this situation.
Let our lust not take away the joy of watching a tusker in the milieu of its natural habitat. If there is hope for these regal giants anywhere in the country-it is in Karnataka.