Indiscriminate poaching, leading to drastic reduction of tuskers

Indiscriminate poaching, leading to a drastic reduction of tuskers,
may be responsible for a young tusker turning a killer in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. Kannan, a forest watcher in Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala, who intimately knows the ways of the wild, says there is something unusual about this tusker. “I saw this young tusker violently bullying a cow elephant in the forests last year. The cow wanted to back off, but the tusker would not let go and the fight went on for a long time down a valley before subsiding,” he says. The next day they found the cow elephant dead some distance away from the scene of the fight.


Off and on during the last couple of years, especially in the months of February, March and April, there have been elephant killings in Periyar. The reserve authorities found the situation assuming a serious dimension when seven elephants were found dead one after another in a particular area within a short span of six weeks from February 26 to April 5 this year. In all the cases where post-mortem examinations could be done in time, no pathogens and no signs such as tusk removal to indicate the role of poachers were found. The deaths were attributed to “injuries sustained in fights with a tusker and subsequent infections.” Unusually aggressive. And the tusker the forest watcher had seen fighting was seen roaming in the territory with signs of musth, a periodical condition in the elephant when testosterone levels shoot up, raising the animal’s libido and making it aggressive.

An expert team that studied the circumstances of the killings concluded that this tusker in musth, the only one to be seen in the area during the period of the killings, must be the killer. Trackers are behind it watching its behaviour. “Elephant fights in the wild are not uncommon and some fights lead to deaths. Bulls fight for dominance in a herd. But so many deaths happening in the same locality, apparently in fights with one particular tusker, is uncommon and needs to be looked into,” says Dr. P.S. Easa, a member of the IUCN’s Asian Elephant Specialist Group.
Five of the seven recent killings in the PTR were of cow elephants. One was a sub-adult female and the other a sub-adult male. Dr. Jacob V. Cheeran, veterinary and wildlife expert, who was in the expert team constituted by the State Wildlife Department to study the development, notes that the cows were gored by the tusker from the side, while the sub-adult male victim was gored head-on. “Apparently, this tusker tends to go beyond the normal aggressive behaviour of a musth elephant while accosting cow elephants for courtship,” he says. Possible reason. Dr. Raman Sukumar, elephant expert and professor of Ecology at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, postulates that the apparent unusual behaviour of the tusker could be due the absence of senior tuskers in the herd.

Poaching was a serious problem in the area in the 1970s, according to him. All big tuskers of the area vanished during that period and the bulls that remained were mostly makhanas, which have no tusks. Some of the male calves of a new generation are just beginning to mature into full grown tuskers. Normally, at this stage, such bulls misbehaving in a herd would be shown their place by a senior bull. “The problem now in Periyar could be due to the lack of this disciplining influence, the proper hierarchy,” he says. Similar phenomenon. Such aggressive behaviour had been reported among African elephants in Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa. There the young elephants had gone after rhinos on a killing spree in the 1990s after their parents were culled from the herds to control the population. The killings stopped when six big tuskers were introduced to the park, virtually as enforcers of law and order.

“We are putting the animal under surveillance. Let us be sure first before deciding on the best way to handle the situation,” says Kerala’s Chief Wildlife Warden K.P. Ouseph. According to Dr. Sukumar, the development need not be taken as a threat to the elephant population in the area. The 925-km tiger reserve is also a Project Elephant area with a roaming elephant population of over 1,000, as per the last wildlife census.

Reports: The Hindu

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