Dr. T.P.Sethumadhavan (Posted on 1 December 2010)
In the era of conservation, where IUCN is giving more emphasis to conservation of Asian Elephants, this story on mitigation of human- elephant conflict among captive Asian elephants in India will be an eye opener to all CEC members. The measures to reduce this human- elephant conflict were very successful with the help of strategic extension programmes. Among range countries, human- elephant conflict is an important area of concern in India. Among captive Asian elephants human- elephant conflict is acquiring momentum in the country.
Recent findings revealed that due to human-elephant (H-E) conflict, 342 human lives are lost during the last three decades in Kerala, India, of which more than 94 Percent victims are mahouts. This study was conducted in the southern most state of India, Thrissur in Kerala state which occupies only 1.13 percent geographic area of the country during January to May 2010. Human-elephant interaction is more in the state where tuskers are used for festivals and processions. Kerala has more than 700 captive Asian elephants.
As part of the study 240 captive Asian elephants were randomly selected to find out the cause and to formulate measures to reduce the human-elephant conflict. Different variables like feeding, management, season, age, musth incidence, behavior, transportation, breeding and diseases were identified. Data were collected from stakeholders involved in elephant welfare, like veterinarians, mahouts, elephant owners, festival organizers, policy makers and elephant lovers with the help of interview schedule. Focus group discussions were also conducted. Major interventions affecting above variables were identified and a SWOT analysis was done. Based on the findings, management protocols were developed to reduce the increasing incidence of H-E conflict.
Based on the above findings a management system was formulated to reduce the stress after taking in to account the major variables identified. It includes best feeding and management practices, musth forecasting system, scientific disease control system and best management practices during transport and festivals. The formulated scientific management system, which was administered during 2007, were modified and applied on 240 captive Asian elephants during the festival season from January to May 2010.
During festive season, when the elephants are compelled to stand for more than 6 hours, measures were taken to give succulent vegetables and fruits frequently. They were allowed to walk on shady places. Wet gunny bags were placed underneath their foot. 12 hours rest period was made compulsory for elephants before moving to the next festival. Series of Mahout training programmes and awareness seminars were conducted to create awareness on scientific management practices among mahouts, public and students. Interventions in transportation norms were followed.
Elephants are allowed to walk only 20 km per day during morning and evening hours. Beyond 20 Km trucks were made compulsory as per captive elephant management rule prevalent in the state. Protocol for control of elephants and role of mahouts were well defined and implemented. Based on the SWOT analysis following remedial measures was identified in breeding, feeding, management, season, age, musth incidence, musth forecasting, Mahout training, behavior, over work, cruelty, transportation and disease control in tune with 'Captive Elephant Management Rule 2003'. Musth forecasting system was formulated based on previous incidences of musth.
The study findings revealed that best captive elephant management practices could reduce 92 percent of human-elephant conflicts in the State. In order to reduce stress, variables like scientific feeding and management, disease control and management during musth period need proper attention. There is a positive correlation noticed between season and incidences of musth. Musth forecasting system can help to reduce human-elephant conflict by taking effective control measures before the pre-musth period.
Dr.T.P.Sethumadhavan, Assistant Director & Veterinary Scientist, Animal Husbandry Department, Government of Kerala, India. (Member, CEC commission, IUCN, South East Asian Countries) mail- firstname.lastname@example.org