The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Elephant count raises eyebrows

New Delhi, April 18: Experts have raised eyebrows at the elephant population and poaching figures put out by the government, saying innumerable loopholes in data gathering blur the big picture.

Recent figures tabled in Parliament claimed the elephant population in 2001 was 28,274, marginally down from 29,010 in 1997. But there was absolutely no difference in the number of elephants in Assam, Bihar, Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Bengal between 1997 and 2001.

Wildlife observers and NGOs have refused to accept this. “It can’t be accepted that the number of elephants has remained the same between 1997-2001. With so many cases of poisoning and poaching, the figures given for some north-eastern states and others are highly questionable,” said P.K. Sen, director of the Indian chapter of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Sen said the Union ministry of environment and forests was over-dependent on the data supplied by state departments and there was no way of independently verifying their accuracy. “The state government never reveals how the survey has been conducted and they have continuously flouted norms given by the Central government. Only Madhya Pradesh carries out surveys every alternate year,” he said.

Other experts said the government data did not reveal the sex ratio, which had been disturbed by rampant poaching of the male elephant.

“According to an estimate by the World Conservation Union, there are less than 2,000 tuskers left in the country. But all this gets concealed because the data gathered in Delhi is often manipulated on the ground for vested interests,” said Vivek Menon, executive director of the Wild Life Trust of India.

The poaching of male elephants for tusks and the resultant skewing of sex ratios reduces the probability of survival of small elephant groups, even in the short term. It also curbs genetic variation, posing a different kind of threat to the survival of the species.

Menon said the genetic loss might not just be a “random” one but a loss of genes that confer resistance to parasites and diseases.

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