After increasing rhino deaths in Nepal, the concern is now shifting to the diminishing Nepal elephant population.
The world observed World Elephant Day on August 12, 2019 with the pledge to protect the endangered species.
Alarmingly, Nepal is loosing its elephant population at a faster rate than any other country that is home to the Asian elephant.
Nepal has hardly about 100-150 elephants and out of this, two-three elephants are killed every year in elephant-human conflicts says Dinesh Neupane, a research associate studying elephants in Nepal for more than a decade.
“The number of annual deaths may seem small, but when we look at our population of elephants, it is alarming. We have a small number of elephants and they tend to give birth slowly, just once in two years, and in small numbers. So the population is not getting replaced,” said Neupane.
The fact that these deaths occur due to retaliation from humans rather than poaching or natural causes is all the more worrisome.
Locals shoot elephants when they enter human settlements. Elephants also get electrocuted by electric fences setup by locals to keep the mammoths away.
“We have almost no elephant poaching incidents, which is a problem in India and some African countries. Therefore, all these deaths are because of the negative interactions between elephants and humans,” said Neupane.
These encounters have become a major concern for Tarai-based elephant conservationists. The conflicts not only result in the loss of lives in elephants but also in humans.
Elephants straying into human settlements result in nearly 12 human deaths per year and millions of rupees loss.
As per a study on the temporal and spatial patterns of human-elephant conflicts (co-authored by Neupane), most of the attacks occur in the night.
It has been observed that more number of human casualties are reported in winter while elephant deaths are reported between June-July.
One of the primary concerns of elephant conservation is habitat loss, which only increases such conflicts.
“Only 5.4 percent of the elephant’s historical and native habitat remains in the country. Much of their natural habitat has been fragmented due to human settlements and agricultural farmlands. We’ve also damaged their historical migratory routes. We have 45 percent forest cover and six protected areas in the Tarai but the forest areas are not connected, forcing the elephants to pass via human settlements and agriculture land,” said Neupane.
Another study conducted, also presented a picture of how land and home use practices were equally responsible for the falling elephant population in Nepal.
The study included a survey which reviewed the relation between land use and household practices and the elephant-related attacks.
The survey found that one-third of the alcohol-producing households faced such attacks, which also take happen in houses having banana backyards.
Neupane suggests that since human-elephant conflicts are trans-boundary issues, both India and Nepal should get together and solve the crisis by:
According to Nepal Academy of Science and Technology Academician Dinesh Bhuju said that so far efforts were made only to control elephants or minimize the damage.
“We have always been very fond of elephants, but because of our deeds, this creature is disappearing. So far, all conservation and management plans are about confining them to protected areas. We have not been able to admit that we have encroached on their lands,” said Bhuju, also General Secretary at the Resources Himalaya Foundation.