In the last elephant census, Karnataka had some 6,000 elephants.
- Volunteers, officials tracking elephants at Bannerghatta National Park
- In the last count, Karnataka had 6,000 elephants, the most in India
- Knowing elephant population will help prevent man-animal conflict
The national elephant estimation is on - and Karnataka is hoping to hold on to its title as the elephant state. In the last count, the state had some 6,000 elephants - the most in the country. In the Bannerghatta National Park, close to Bengaluru, forest officials, volunteers and scientists got together to count the pachyderms.
"It is an all-India elephant census. Now we are doing across South India because Bannerghatta has a boundary with Tamil Nadu. And if we don't do it together, elephants from here will go there and from there will come here. The elephants may be counted twice," Javed Mumtaz, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bannerghatta National Park, told NDTV.
Knowing the numbers will help in managing wildlife and also planning better to minimise potential human-animal conflict along the long boundary of the park, which covers some 260 square kilometres.
The first stage of the count involved the team walking through specific areas of the forest - about five square kilometres each. During this time, they saw and counted the elephants. The next stage was looking at the abundant piles of elephant dung.
"The second day would be the dung count, which is to estimate the density of dung piles within that particular search area," said Nishant Srinivasaiah, PhD scholar, National Institute of Advanced Studies.
"Once you get the density, you can use a very simple formula which involves the defecation rate of the elephant, and the decay rate of the dung to get an estimate on the elephant numbers as well," Ms Srinivasaiah said.
"Four to five months before the actual estimate that took place over the last three days, experiments were being conducted to establish how long it takes for elephant dung to decay and disappear. So you have an estimate of the decay rate itself," Ms Srinivasaiah said.
Forest guard Santosh explained to NDTV how the size of the dung ball can even give an indication of the age of the elephant who dropped it.
On the final day, volunteers who had been part of the whole process watched waterholes to understand how many males, females and young elephants are in the population.
"We do this because we are very close to the waterhole and we can see adults, male and female, all this differentiation we can do, so that finally we can say what is the population like, what is the male-female ratio, how many calves are there, how many sub-adults are there," Javed Mumtaz said. "We will know the demography of the population," Mr Mumtaz said.
A volunteer, Anjali, said they have been looking at the waterhole and the area around it to see if any elephants would come. "We saw a magnificent tusker down there and three more and we are waiting for them to come. And now I don't want to go back home," Ms Anjali said.
Another student volunteer, Jhanavi, added, "I love wildlife. It is so close to Bengaluru but many people don't even know that Bengaluru has such a beautiful forest. So they are conducting something which is useful to at least know the elephant census. I love to be a part of it."
Given their size, one might think that elephants are easy to count. But not in areas like the thick forests of Bannerghatta, where if they don't want to be seen, they won't be seen.
But the count is on - and Karnataka hopes it will keep its claim as the state with the highest number of wild elephants in India.