The presence of elephants has shrunk to less than half of the forests in Karnataka’s Western Ghats due to anthropogenic factors, a recent study shows. According to the study, “human disturbances” has affected elephant habitat occupancy as well as site-level detectability. Across the 38,000 sq km Malenadu landscape in Western Ghats which include 14 wildlife reserves, a team of scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Centre for Wildlife Studies mapped distribution of the population of the jumbos. The results, published recently, showed that elephants occupied around only 13,000 sq km of area.
“We found that anthropogenic factors predominated over natural habitat attributes in determining elephant occupancy, underscoring the conservation need to regulate them. Human disturbances affected elephant habitat occupancy as well as site-level detectability. Rainfall is not an important limiting factor in this relatively humid bioclimate,” said Karanth, co-author of the study. Of the 38,000 sq km landscape, about 17,000 sq km was deemed unsuitable as elephant habitat due to high human- density settlements or intensive agriculture.
The remaining 21,000 sq km comprised potential elephant habitat including forests, plantations and even uncultivated revenue department or private lands. However, less than 13,500 sq km was actually occupied by elephants, the study found. While mapping elephant distribution, they also factored possible non-detection of elephants during field surveys, thereby establishing a reliable protocol to study elephant distribution. “We took into account the simple fact that we may not actually end up seeing elephants or signs of their presence even if they are present at a location,” explained Devcharan Jathanna, lead author of the study.
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