In a span of the last six months, nearly a dozen jumbos were shocked to death in Odisha. Since the last decade, the State still holds on to the dubious distinction of number two nationally in losing hordes of the large mammal to live electric wires.
Be it poaching or shocking of the pachyderms to deaths, Odisha figures at number two position in the country. And this is definitely the elephant in the room moment for the State Environment and Forest Department. Because, despite claims of the stringent action plan, the writ of poachers run large in the State, and they kill wild animals at their will.
As per data available with the Union Environment Ministry, among 12 states home to elephants in the country, excluding Meghalaya, it's only Odisha that has been reporting pachyderm deaths due to poaching for the last three consecutive years.
When the State is home to only 1,976 jumbos, it has lost nearly 1500 during the last two decades (2000-21) and 99 per cent of deaths were of unnatural causes (means not natural death).
In the given backdrop, as per an estimate, a cow elephant during her reproductive years of around 4-decades could give birth to 6 calves. But Odisha is losing the big mammal at a rate of 75 per year, the data of Odisha Forest Department for the last 2-decades reveal. The high casualty, therefore, points to the existential crisis the pachyderms in the State are staring at.
Electrocution has emerged as one of the top killers of the big mammal in the State. The data with the Odisha Forest and Environment Department shows that a high of 139 elephants has been shocked to death during the period 2009-2021.
During the period 2014-2020, as per Union Environment Ministry data, with a total of 73 elephants succumbing to live wires in the State, Odisha figures at number two in the country. Assam, which has an elephant population of 5719, topped the list with 90 electrocution deaths during the period.
Similarly, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which have jumbo population of 6049, 5706 and 2761, respectively, saw deaths due to electrocution at 65, 24 and 68, respectively.
The above comparison shows despite having less elephant population, electrocution deaths in Odisha are on the higher side.
As per Odisha Forest Minister's data laid in State Assembly, the majority of the jumbo electrocution deaths have been attributed to live electric wire traps set up by poachers, though nearly 25-30 per cent deaths were also blamed on the discoms as the high voltage sagging wires form the death noose around the neck of the big mammal here.
The data with the Odisha government reveals the killer zones. Keonjhar, Angul, Dhenkanal and Sambalpur bearing the maximum burden of jumbo electrocution deaths in the State.
As per the Wildlife Protection Society of India's (WPSI) wildlife crime database, the illegal ivory trade is rampant in the districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Angul and Sambalpur. And if the State government data is analysed, the fact of coincidence is poaching of elephants are highest in the same region.
Experts Furious At Odisha Govt
The death of a 10-year-old male elephant electrocuted by a live wire trap laid by poachers inside the Angul forest division this July, which hogged the headlines as Odisha by then had recorded around 4 jumbo deaths due to electrocution in a span of little over a month, expressing disgust, Sangita Iyer, founder of Voice for Asian Elephants Society (VFAES) shot a letter to State’s Energy Minister, Dibya Shankar Mishra in that regard.
She said, “The recent spate of elephant deaths in Odisha due to electrocution is a matter of deep concern. The elephants were electrocuted within a span of just 34 days. It is a heinous crime against nature, and the voiceless gentle giants of our planet who continue to suffer and die silently due to human ignorance and arrogance, exacerbated by apathy, complacency, negligence and a lack of reverence for the natural world that sustains all of humanity.”
Strongly disapproving of the jumbo state of affairs in the State, President, Wildlife Society of Odisha, Biswajit Mohanty said, “While determined gangs of elephant poachers chase tuskers in Odisha’s forests for ivory, the pachyderms are also falling victim to careless power companies. But a clueless State Government has turned into a mute spectator,"