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Elephants prefer natural water bodies: Study

The Pioneer, New Delhi, 18th November, 2015


Notwithstanding building of waterholes in various protected areas in the country, a research conducted by Wildlife Conservation Society, India, demonstrates overarching importance of natural systems over ad hoc interventions.


 The study titled “Determinants of dry season habitat use by Asian elephants in the Western Ghats of India”, evaluated distribution of elephants in Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks, besides the adjoining forests in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. It has been authored by N Lakshminarayanan, Dr Krithi K Karanth, Dr K Ullas Karanth and others.


 The study recorded the clear preference of jumbos for natural water bodies. Despite presence of over 650 waterholes across the study area spanning 1850 sq km, the pachyderm distribution pattern was most strongly influenced by natural rivers and streams. With increasing distance to rivers, the probability of habitat use by elephants decreased.


 The researchers caution  that habitat management practices like creating waterholes without research on impacts may in fact be counter-productive for conservation. “Given the scale and multitude of management interventions that take place in our wildlife reserves every year, scientific assessments of their usefulness have to be carried out prior to interventions so that only needed habitat management practices are implemented,”suggested the authors.


 The study further observed that in Africa, intensive studies examining influence of artificial waterholes on elephants, resultant impacts on vegetation and on elephant population dynamics itself, have facilitated informed management. On the other hand, management practices followed in the 13 Asian elephant range States — including India are largely ad hoc rather than science based,” the study noted.


Distance to river was the best indicator of the observed variation in dry season habitat use patterns of elephants in the study area, the study noted. Further, the parts of the habitats that stayed green during the dry period was the preferred choice of habitat use by elephants.


India is home to more than 50 per cent of the existing population in the world distributed over 1,10,000 sq kms. This comprises highly heterogeneous habitats ranging from arid scrub to moist evergreen forests and human modified landscapes.