Baripada: A total of 12 elephants have died due to various reasons in the last three years in the Similipal wildlife sanctuary of Mayurbhanj district, sources said. The alarming rate of elephant deaths is due to the increasing number of human-animal conflict, officials informed. These conflicts have harmed both human beings and the pachyderms. Loss of habitats has forced the pachyderms to stray into villages. With food available easily in human localities, the animals refuse to go back into forests leading to a tussle between the two sides. With the elephants entering human habitats, they have become easy targets for poachers.
However, forest officials are shielding the poachers stating other causes as the reasons for the deaths of elephants, including anthrax. What is surprising is that the Forest department officials are not making any serious effort to prevent the loss of elephant lives. Forest officials said that five elephants have died of anthrax while the remaining seven due to ‘unknown’ causes. Two anthrax deaths occurred in 2019, an identical number in 2020 and one in 2021.
However, forest officials are tight-lipped on the number of elephants that have died due to poaching. Recently, two poachers were arrested and remanded to judicial custody for illegal trading of elephant tusks. Forest officials had seized eight tusks weighing over 45 kg from them at Angarpada under Udala forest division. The accused were trying to sell them for `18 lakh. In 2021, a tusker carcass was recovered at Sarisua Ramkunda jungle. Officials found that its tusks had been cut allegedly by poachers. The forest department suspended two of its employees for the tusker’s death and intensified the probe.
However, the two arrested poachers, a few days later confessed that they were responsible for the death of the elephant and they had cut its tusks. While the actual number of elephant deaths is much more in Similipal sanctuary, it has been alleged that the forest officials are fudging numbers instead of coming up with actual figures. The straying of the elephants from Similipal and Jharkhand into human habitats has been continuing for the last few years. The animals after leaving their habitats are intruding into human habitations in Rasagobindpur, Morada, Betanoti and Badasahi blocks to reach Nilagiri in Balasore district.
Forest department officials have also failed to protect the people as well as the animals due to shortage of staff. Honorary wildlife warden Bhanumitra Acharya has demanded that despite all the claims and counter-claims it is pertinent to protect the pachyderms as they play an important role in ecological balance.