| An elephant in Tirupati sprays water to cool itself. (PTI file picture)
Colombo, Oct. 26 (Reuters): Asia can be a very crowded place, especially if you are an elephant.
The shrinking natural habitat of Asian elephants in recent decades has forced them into increased and often violent contact with humans, said environmentalists and wildlife experts who met recently in Colombo to find ways to tackle the problem.
In India alone, home to more than half the continent’s estimated 35,000 pachyderms, about 200 wild elephants die every year in conflict with people or are killed for ivory.
“Elephants are shot, snared, electrocuted, run into by trains, poisoned in retaliation and everywhere deprived of habitat,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder and director of Save the Elephants group.
Elephants are reduced to scavenging for food in such places as a stinking garbage dump in Mannampitiya, in Sri Lanka, an island that is home to about 3,000 of them.
The dump is now an infamous elephant-watching spot.
Four people were killed in September in Bangladesh after a herd of 10 elephants descended from a forest southeast of Dhaka and stomped through villages, forcing troops to kill one of the animals.
Africa has about 600,000 elephants, belonging to a larger species whose numbers have grown after a worldwide ban on trade in ivory in 1989, resulting in overpopulation in some spots on the continent.
“The international ban on the trade of ivory successfully halted the decline in elephant numbers in Africa,” said Douglas-Hamilton. He helped pioneer the tagging of elephants to track their movements, using neck collars with complex electronic equipment containing GPS trackers and motion detectors.
Before the ban, ivory hunters had cut Africa’s elephant population to half.
Indian ecologist Shankar Raman said conservationists must do more research to accurately gauge the situation in Asia.
“We don’t really know if the population is increasing or declining in India,” Raman said. “What we know is that the male population in many areas of southern India is declining,” he said.