And it’s time to take on an elephantine challenge.
Nearly 3,000 surveyors — armed with notebooks, pencils and area maps — will fan out across all the 24 districts of the state from Friday to tally the dwindling population of Elephas maximus indicus or Indian elephant, which has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The Rs 20-lakh exercise — being conducted in Jharkhand’s sanctuaries, national park and jumbo corridors after five years — will keep wildlife tourism suspended for three days, till June 3, when the Centre-sponsored census ends.
Chief conservator of forests A.K. Gupta maintained that “necessary homework” for the big survey was complete. “Trackers, forest guards and other support staff are trained and ready to hit the timberland,” he said, adding that besides Jharkhand, three adjoining states — Chhattisgarh, Bengal and Odisha — were also conducting the census because they formed the migratory corridor of the mega herbivorous mammals.
Like the Dalma (East Singhbhum) and Palkot (Gumla) sanctuaries and the Palamau Tiger Reserve, wildlife parks in the other three states too will remain out of bounds for tourists to ensure correct and hassle-free counting of elephants.
DFO (Ranchi wildlife division) Kamlesh Pandey said clear instructions had been issued to sanctuary guards not to allow any visitor or tourist vehicle during the census. “Visitor rush, heavy vehicular movements, honking, et al, disturb animals. They will not venture out in the open and this may result in flawed counting,” he explained.
According to Pandey, the counting exercise will have three tiers to avoid chances of duplicity. These are track counting, fixed-point counting and block counting. While the first will follow jumbo trail one point to another, the second will be based on fixed places such as watering holes and salt pits. The third will entail updating details block-wise.
Sprawling over nearly 200sqkm, Dalma has more than 130 flourishing watering holes, excluding small nullahs, where surveyors will be deputed on watchtowers, hideouts etc. to note down details of visiting animals.
“Many village youths have volunteered for the job, besides our own employees and members of local village development committees. They have been taught correct ways to count elephants, including techniques to identify age and sex. Kits — comprising food, water, notebook, area map, pencils, clipboards and a compass — were distributed among surveyors today (Thursday),” Pandey said.
DFO (core) of Palamau Tiger Reserve Premjit Anand said different teams were being involved at different levels for greater accuracy.
“One has to record an enormous amount of details such as age, sex, height, colour, tusker or not, time of sighting, behaviour and type of dung,” he said, adding that 45 squads of three-four surveyors each would cover the more than 1,000sqkm reserve. While track census will be done between 5am and 4.30pm, fixed-point and block counts will take place from 5.30am to 4pm.
The reserve, which has earned Jharkhand big cat glory in recent times, as well as the 183sqkm Palkot sanctuary have reported an alarming loss of 50-60 per cent watering holes. But, officials maintained that alternative arrangements had been done so that the elephant census could be carried out without interruption.
“Artificial troughs have been created and water is filled in through tankers and borings,” said a ranger in Palkot.
In Palamau, “satisfactory” arrangements have been made too. “Tanks of 2,000 litres are on the move to fill up drying up watering holes. Besides, we have a buffer stock of 17,500 litres — two tankers each of 6,500 litre capacity and one of 4,500 litres,” Anand added.