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Friday, November 30, 2012

Elephant census in Assam

Enumeration of wild elephants has been carrying out in the state like the enumeration of rhinos and tigers. But enumeration of wild elephant is different from that of rhinos and tigers. Rhinos or tigers live in a specific location like Kaziranga NP, Manas NP or Orang NP. But wild elephants move in various districts or states even they cross international boundaries like India-Bhutan or India-Nepal etc. So it is easy to understand the difficulties in counting wild elephants. Hundred percent accuracy is never achieved,but forest officials engaged in enumeration try best to find reasonable figures. Project Elephant,under Ministry of Environment and Forest issued a few guide lines in 2005 for eneumeration of wild elephants in all 5 Elephant Reserves in the country recognised by Project Elephant. The objective of wild elephant enumeration aims -to learn about trends in elephant population; to set up accurate base line for elephant reserves; to gain information about the status of tuskers in the Ers and to provide exposure to the field staff. The methodology followed in this regard is done by the combination of any two of the following methods: 1.Traditional Method (Total Count) 2.Sampling Method (Block Sampling with Direct Count and 3.Sampling Method (Line Transact-Dung Count). Elephant population structure is also known by Fixed Point Count (from watch towers; hides at water holes;salt licks etc.) Experienced and trained observers collect data from watch towers,water hides or hides from 6 am to 6 pm for a fort night prior to actual enumeration. Total Count or Block-Sampling with direct count is being carried out on same dates in all the ER s within the same elephant range so as to minimize double count. On the other hand Sampling with Live Transacts-Dung Count is done in the same season. The following informations are collected during an elephant enumeration: total numbers of elephants during a particular season; numbers of elephants in various ages (adult,sub-adult,juvenile and calf etc); numbers according to sex groups (bulls and cows) and numbers of tuskers. Wild elephants are also classified according to their heights of shoulder. Accordingly, calves up to 4 feet (120 cm) height; juvenile up to 5 feet (150 cm); sub-adult (Bulls) up to 8 feet (240 cm); sub-adult (cows) up to 7 feet (210 cm). Above 8 feet (240 cm) in case of bulls and above 7 feet (210 cm) in case of cows are counted as adults. Bulls indicate both Tuskers and Makhnas.( Tusk less bulls are called Makhna while tusker with a single tusk is called a Ganesh.) Suitable scientific institutions/universities/colleges may be involved for training,planning,field work. analysis etc.More over service of the reputed NGOs are also involved provided they have been exposed suitably to the methodology. The followings are a few major techniques taken for Total Count and Block Sampling Counts: Identification of individual elephants and herds; estimation of heights of elephants; distinguishing Makhna from cow elephants; tips of avoiding double count; stratification of census zone; use of maps,GPS,compass,camera; precaution against wild elephants; care of domesticated elephants; first aids etc. For Dung-Count technique the following main aspects are taken into consideration beside a few already mentioned above: Calculation of dung decay rate; selection of dung sample; distinguishing between old and fresh dung; dung present from dung absent; dealing with obstacles during transacts; distinguishing dung of one elephant from another etc. As per Principal Chief Conservator of Forests,Wildlife,Assam order Dated 25.10.2010 all conservators and DFOs were asked estimate wild elephants of Assam after 2010.It needs mention that earlier elephant enumeration was restricted to enumeration of elephants in the Elephant Reserves only.But as per the new order estimation of the elephants was to be done in the entire Assam covering all geographical area. A training session was held at the Herbarium Hall of Guwahati zoo on 11.11.2011 and instructions were given to forest officials to be engaged in Elephant Census 2011.The census was to be carried out within a week. Now let us see the schedule of the activities of the week long elephant enumeration during 2010-11. Day 1:Briefing of the estimating teams and positioning of the ET at the starting point. Day 2-4:Locating elephant herd by direct sighting,following trail,dung,foot prints and marking of the sighting locations on the map. Day 5:Detection of the elephant herd following their Dandi in accordance with the movement pattern and recording of the population. Day 6: Trial counting for the actual estimation. The stratification into high,medium and low strata are to be finalized as per the movement pattern and next days position of the herd in the block. Day 7: Actual final counting by traversing from the opposite direction of the previous days movement route and pattern in the respective blocks with GPS recording. On completion of the week long activity debriefing is done. Zonal Estimation: For smooth and systematic estimation the Conservators of Forests act as the Zonal Coordinator and DFOs are the Zonal Officers. So accordingly,elephant enumerations have been done in Assam. Its really a thrilling experience for all the forest officials in the state where such enumerations are done. According to the latest census there are approximately 5620 wild elephants in Assam (google data) in 20 Wildlife Sanctuaries and two National Parks,including Kaziranga and Manas.

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