This tusk task is a tough one for Forest department

It will have to destroy tonnes of precious ivory; samples to be preserved
Last Updated 18 September 2013, 20:51 IST

The Forest department which has been extremely wary of destroying the 9,000 tonnes of ivory/trophies kept in secret locations across the State is however aware that it has to do so someday, if not in the immediate future.

But to ensure that all is not lost, the department has agreed for the conduct of a scientific study of these tusks to ascertain the dietary history of the mammals; its adaptation to climatic changes; and whether the size of the tusks have reduced over years, so as to ensure that relevant information about the jumbos are not lost forever.

Despite being issued a directive by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to destroy all the tusks collected over a period of 40 years, the department has not done so, especially because the ivories are said to be priceless.

So when experts from IISc approached it recently, seeking permission to conduct scientific research of the tusks, the department readily agreed.

In a letter dated September 10, G S Prabhu, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), asked the Chief Conservator of Forests, Mysore division, to allow Raman Sukumar, professor and chairman, Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, to conduct the study.

Sukumar has been permitted to take thin slices from as many tusks stocked by the department for analysis of the annular rings on the ivory.

Once the CCF submits a report on the number of slices gathered and their weight, the department will issue the necessary licence under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, to store them in IISc’s lab.

“It is necessary to preserve these slices for research. The data from the analysis of the annular rings will convey the forage and other events in the life of the animal.

There are directions from the MoEF to destroy all the ivories in our stock by burning them to ashes. But once burnt, all the information will be lost for posterity. So far, none of my predecessors has taken the decision to burn the ivories. The department has been in a catch-22 situation. I don’t think even I will do it (destroy) in my time,” said Prabhu.

Sukumar said that the study was unique to India. Carbon and oxygen elements will be used for conducting the ‘stable isotopes analyses’.

“Like in the trees, there are annular rings even in the tusks. By studying these, we can ascertain the habitat of the elephants, what they were eating and the environment conditions. We can map the dietary history of the elephants through this. We can also establish whether the size of the tusks has reduced over a period of time. It has been noticed that the size of tusks in African elephants has reduced due to human intervention.”

He said that this “sophisticated analyses” could take several years for completion.

For defence units

Prabhu also said that the department had decided to part with a few pairs of ivories to defence units across the country.

“About 15 defence units had requested for the ivories. We have asked for their authorised personnel to come and select the pairs of ivories that they want to display,” he said.

The Punjab, Madras and Rajput regiments, Air Force units and Army-based workshops in Bangalore will be displaying these prized trophies.

“We have also decided to give a few pairs to museums and government organisations. Despite this, we will be left with tonnes of ivory,” Prabhu added.

(Published 18 September 2013, 20:51 IST)

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