National statistics revealed that between 2010 and 2020, a staggering 1,160 wild elephants were killed across India due to human activity. Of these, 186 were killed after being hit by speeding trains (the state of Assam recorded the highest elephant deaths at 62), 741 were electrocuted (the state of Odisha recorded the maximum deaths at 133), 69 were hunted down and poached (Odisha topped the list again with 49 deaths), and 33 were poisoned.
K. Muthamizh Selvan, Scientist D (Project Elephant) in the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, sent this data to the animal rights activist R. Pandiraja after requesting it via Right of Information legislation.
Pandiraja told the Indo-Asian News Service: “It is saddening to note that several wild elephants are losing their lives due to callous and negligent behaviour of humans. The recent mowing down of three elephants, including two female elephants in the Kanjikode-Madhukkara sector by the Mangalore -Chennai Express train, is tragic. If the Railways had been a little more careful, we could have saved the lives of these animals that play a significant role in maintaining the ecological balance.”
The 2017 census showed that there were 29,964 wild elephants in India, the state of Karnataka having the most (6,049), followed by Tamil Nadu (2,761). The Ministry of Environment and Forests had spent Rs 212.5 crore ($28 million) in the last ten years to conserve elephants, but this clearly has not been sufficient. After the death of three elephants hit by an express train near Navakkarai in Madukkarai on 26th November 2021, state forest officials and railway officials from Kerala’s Palakkad have now agreed to erect rail fences at vulnerable stretches along the track between Kanjicode and Madukkarai to prevent elephants from crossing the tracks. Although these measures will definitively help, they would need to be replicated all across the country to have a significant impact.
Sadly, in addition to the suffering caused to wild elephants — and their families — we also have to add the suffering of captive elephants used to work or kept in zoos. According to the census conducted by Project Elephant in 2018, there are 2,454 captive elephants in India. They are routinely found to be suffering from health issues such as foot-rot, arthritis and compromised nutrition.