A fine balance
According to a recently concluded study by the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation and A Rocha India in collaboration with the State’s Forest Department, Bannerghatta National Park has the least skewed sex ratio of Asian elephants when compared to any other area that has been researched, discovers Madhumitha B.
Bannerghatta National Park maybe a conflict hotspot considering not just the large number of human settlements within and just outside the forest but also because of its close proximity to an ever-increasing urban space, which continues to mount pressure on the wildlife area year after year.
A conflict zone often causes a predicament to both species – man and animal. One ending in crop raids and destruction and the other, often less noticeable, a stress on conservation and endangering of species.
So when there is an indicator that conservation has, in some way, managed to keep intact an ecology, it not only reiterates the resilience of the species, which continues to be caught between man-made boundary battles, but also the forest management which has in some way provided an opportunity to enable wildlife to find a means of survival, even in difficult zones.
An area of about 103 sq km, just outside Bangalore, represents a situation that can be considered optimistic in the area of wildlife conservation. The Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) has an average of 200 (sometimes more) elephants treading these forests throughout the year with 50 and above being the resident population.
It currently supports one of the best genetic diversities of elephants when compared to Asian elephant habitats across India and neighbouring countries. This, for conservation means, a decrease in in-breeding and the potential for a sustainable growth in their numbers.
According to a recently concluded study by the Asian Nature Conservation foundation (ANCF) and A Rocha India in close collaboration with the Karnataka Forest Department, BNP has the least skewed sex ratio of Asian elephants when compared to any other area that has been researched. This refers to the fact that the balance between male and female elephants in Bannerghatta National Park is by far the best across forests that have so far been studied.
Largest existing habitat
The study elaborates, “Bannerghatta National Park is highly irregular in shape and measures a maximum of 26 km in length from North to South and varies between 0.3 and 5 km in width from East to West. Politically, BNP is one of the smallest parks in the country. However, geographically it is a part of the largest existing habitat – one of the last remaining tropical thorn forests of the country, which is considered to be one of the preferred habitats of Asian elephants.”
“The reproductive fitness of this population stands apart from most other forests that have published such studies and almost as much or better than the required ratio (of 1:3, one male elephant for every three female) for what is considered an adequately good number as there are sufficient males,” stated Surendra Varma, Member-International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Asian Elephant Specialist Group.
He is one of the authors of the latest report on ‘Ecology, Conservation and Management of the Asian Elephant in Bannerghatta National Park.’
The landscape, so close to the capital of the State, that these large land mammals consider their home or shelter is definitely reflective of some protective measures that are yielding the desired results.
“Looking at it from one perspective, it indicates that the protection needed to preserve the forests is probably in place here at some level. The elephants find this landscape safer, habitat suitable and the credit for that may go to the Forest department.
“But there is also the possible question of whether this forest is being used merely as a shelter during the day so the elephants can access crops at night from the prevalent human settlements and crop patterns surrounding the national park,” shared Varma.
The latter, for which there is a brief understanding based on conflict reports, needs to be further researched upon to ensure that conflict can be tackled as mitigation and conservation are also achieved. According to the 2002, 2005 and 2007 elephant census conducted by the government, the national park had a mean number of elephants of 71, 74 and 148 respectively.
“The mean density results suggest an increasing trend in the elephant population. While the last census estimates a population of 148 elephants for the park, the forest staff involved in the elephant driving operations and farmers living adjacent to the park boundary suggest the number to be more than 200, with the migratory elephants moving in during the cropping season (July-November) till the end of winter season (November-February),” the study, which was conducted during a span of 10 years, beginning in 2002 and ongoing, added.
A large share of the world’s Asian elephants are found in India with as much as 50 per cent of the total population here. In that, South India, along the Western and Eastern Ghats, supports the largest Asian elephant habitat and population.
It is then necessary to note that currently the park has the least skewed sex ratio and death of more males due to conflict related causes may affect this balance, which is detrimental to the existence of this species.
There are 117 human settlements just five kilometres from the national park boundary and at least five within the park.
Agriculture is the major activity carried out by the local community in this landscape, which is changing gradually due to urbanisation, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the park.
Further, many developmental projects are coming up around the park such as construction, road widening, repair and maintenance of roads passing through the park.
All these factors are likely to have an influence on the type and magnitude of various landscape elements in the area. Adding to these research report’s findings, Varma states, “The study of forest cover, type, its spread and other aspects associated within, play a critical role in long term conservation of a large mammal such as the Asian elephant.”
The presence of a healthy population of pachyderms in BNP must be looked at optimistically for wildlife conservation and it has to be supported with conflict mitigation measures that can stand up to protect not just this species but the other wildlife that live in the national park as well.
The population composition of the elephants in the national park on one side, the study aims to highlight the effects that a burgeoning human population, rapid urbanisation and crop patterns around the forest, could have on this balance of nature and strongly recommends measures to ensure that this ratio is not altered, for the benefit of keeping the forests intact through these species of wildlife.