Efforts to protect elephants in eastern India are getting a boost after several of the large animals have died by coming in contact with human activity and infrastructure. Now, preventative measures are being taken to preserve the pachyderm population in the region.
Authorities in India's eastern state of Orissa say in the past decade, at least 155 elephants have been electrocuted by farmers trying to protect their crops. Official figures during the last 19 years say poachers killed 231 elephants while 166 died because of accidents. Another 173 elephants died of natural causes.
Dwindling forests over the years have forced elephants to search for food in developed areas and farmland.
The Secretary of the Wildlife Society of Orissa, Biswajit Mohanty, says volunteers in his organization need help from the Conservator of Forests and Wildlife Wardens.
"We have no one and nothing, to provide security to elephants. We must take training from the Department (Conservator of Forests). We should also get clothes and weapons to go into the jungle and protect the elephants. We do not even have a baton with us!" he said. "The government keeps everything, because of which even we get worried about how to protect elephants. There are many people who come here to shoot (with cameras) and some even come to hunt the jumbos," Mohanty said.
P. N. Padhi, Chief Wildlife Warden of Orissa, says elephants are also dying because of negligence by the forest staff. He also blames some forest rangers for not monitoring the movement of elephant herds.
"Due to negligence of some staff or people, elephants are dying out of electrocution, so while educating people, we are also taking drastic steps against the forest staff who are neglecting their duty and the electric department staff who are also responsible for sagging of electric lines," he said. "Even we have gone to the extent of booking them under the Wildlife Protection Act. Then for the protection of elephants we have implemented in the state one elephant management (organization)."
India says the coastal state of Orissa has about 57 percent of the elephant habitat overlapping with central and eastern regions.
India had an estimated 50,000 wild Asian elephants a century ago. The number had dropped to 26,400 pachyderms roaming Indian national parks and forests in 2002. The first comprehensive elephant census published in 2005 showed a steep drop in the numbers to just 21,300. Most of India's elephants live in protected forest reserves.
Poachers and hunters were the early enemies for many elephants in India. Now the animals face deadly threats from trains and electric fences around villages and crops.