Odisha is gradually turning into a graveyard for elephants with 698 elephants having perished in the state in the past eight years, which works out to an annual average of 87. The majority of the deaths, during the period from 2015 to 2023, is due to avoidable reasons.
In a written reply to the state Assembly on Tuesday, state Forest and Environment Minister Pradip Kumar Amat said that the deaths of the jumbos are due to diseases, electrocution, train-hitting, road accidents, poaching and poisoning.
As many as 48 leopards and seven Royal Bengal Tigers (RBTs) also died due to various reasons during the period, Amat stated.
Amat said the state government has been taking various steps to prevent the deaths of elephants, leopards and RBTs which include protecting their habitats, creating prey base, developing water bodies inside the forests, preventing forest fires, holding anti-poaching camps, deployment of special squads for frequent patrolling in jungles and utilisation of advanced technologies to track the movement of elephants and poachers.
Responding to a separate question, the forest minister also said that elephant attacks have claimed 602 lives in the past five years from 2018. As many as 9,611 houses were also damaged while 127 cattle died due to elephant attack.
According to official figures, nearly 30 deaths occurred in the Angul district alone since January due to jumbo attacks. In May, the Odisha government hiked the compensation amount in cases of deaths due to wild animal attacks from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 6 lakh. The compensation for grievous injuries has also been hiked to Rs 2.5 lakh.
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The number of elephants in Odisha was estimated at 1,796 according to the last elephant census done in 2017 with the state having three elephant reserves—Mayurbhanj, Mahanadi and Sambalpur.
The Odisha government has also decided to carry out a fresh survey of elephant corridors to ensure uninterrupted movement of the jumbos within their habitats without being disturbed, said forest department sources.
The Orissa high court had earlier expressed concern over the rising deaths of elephants due to electrocution. It has directed the four power distribution companies in Odisha to prepare a plan to survey human habitations which have seen movement, attacks or crop destruction by wild animals.