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From nearly 186 in 1993, their number in West Bengal is 529 now
‘Planting indigenous species, bamboo and other plants to be used as elephant fodder'
KOLKATA: Efforts to save the national heritage animal – the elephant -- have yielded promising results in West Bengal with their population nearly tripling in the State since Project Elephant was launched across the country in 1992.
According to records of the State Forest Department, north Bengal had nearly 186 elephants in the wild in 1993. The preliminary results of the elephant census conducted in November last year have pegged the current figure at about 529 elephants.
“The preliminary estimate is that there are 529 elephants in north Bengal with a margin of error of 50,” north Bengal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Sheelwant Patel told The Hindu on Friday.
Dr. Patel cited habitat improvement as one of the main reasons for this significant increase in numbers and the fragmented forest area and frequent elephant deaths in railway accidents and man-elephant conflict as the main challenges to their conservation.
“Earlier there were several exotic species that would be planted in the forest areas, but over the past two decades we have focused on planting indigenous species, bamboo and other plants that are more effective as elephant fodder,” he said.
In the forest areas of Jangal Mahal in the State's south-western districts of Paschimi Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia the numbers have increased from 14 in 1993 to about 30 permanent residents in 2010. This region also witnesses the migration of elephant herds from the Dolma forests in Jharkhand that have increased from 96 in 2005 to over 120 last year.
The Buxa Tiger Reserve is the region with the highest elephant density. The reserve, spread over 760 square kilometres, recorded over 200 elephants and is the only area in north Bengal with dense forests that is not disturbed. As such, the forest area here is highly fragmented, Dr. Patel said stating that in north Bengal on an average two forest patches of 167 square kilometres were connected with an elephant corridor.
The national average is for two patches of 1600 square kilometres being connected by a corridor, he added.
As a result of the frequent disruptions in forest areas by villages and inhabited stretches, the region suffers the most serious incidents of man-elephant conflicts, Dr. Patel added.
“The situation in Jangal Mahal is even worse. While in north Bengal, forest areas are surrounded by villages, in south Bengal it is villages surrounded by little bits of forest,” said additional principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) P. K. Ray.
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