Even as August 12 marked the World Elephant Day, dedicated to the conservation of elephants, the largest living mammals on earth, the issues posing an existential threat to these gentle giants are often neglected.

Human-elephant conflict has emerged as one of the major concerns in many States, including Kerala. Repeated issues have resulted in translocation of elephants in the State.

“It is the need of the hour to study human-elephant conflict with a multidisciplinary team of forest, biological, social and veterinary scientists to develop sustainable solutions. Crop damage, animal loss and human accidents are also in plenty. Country-specific action plan is needed. Stakeholder-based research, protection of human life and habitats along with appropriate policy interventions are required to address these issues, which have escalated in the post-COVID era,” said Dr. T.P.Sethumadhavan, Professor at Transdisciplinary University of Health, Bengaluru and former Director, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University.

More than 26 human human lives have been lost due to human-wild elephant conflict in the State in the last four years. Of this, over 70% of deaths occurred in Kannur and Kasaragod districts. More than 14 people died near Aralam farm in Kannur district. The conflict is more frequently reported from Athirappally in Thrissur, Idukki, Palakkad, Pathanamthitta and Wayanad districts, he pointed out.

“Habitat loss and fragmentation, competition for resources, and the resulting human-wildlife conflict is threatening the survival of elephants. In some regions, it is predicted that Asian elephants could go regionally extinct within the next 10 years,” he said.

There is a substantial reduction in numbers of captive elephants in the State, numbered around 400. Increasing incidences of diseases have claimed many captive elephants’ lives. Impaction was the lead cause of deaths in 25% of cases in last 15 years. This was due to faulty feeding and unscientific management. Climatic variations, poor stress management, overwork and cruelty lead to poor health conditions, he said.

Unlike other Asian countries, elephants in India have no age for retirement. They are compelled to work till death. Arthritis, Tuberculosis, Herpes infection, etc, also affects the health of both captive and wild elephants.

One of the elephant owners suggested that it is very difficult to rear elephants profitably due to strict regulatory measures. Recent findings by the PETA reveal that tuberculosis is seen more among captive Asian elephants.

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