Eighteen elephants have died in Kerala’s Wayanad wildlife sanctuary over the past four months, including at least six in tiger attacks that officials say could have been triggered by bitter turf wars over scarce water.
Officials say large-scale migration of animals from nearby Bandipur and Mudumali wildlife parks to the Wayanad sanctuary in search of water amid a debilitating drought have probably brought things to a head.
While six elephants were killed by tigers, two tuskers died fighting each other.
Tiger attacks on elephants are rare because the latter move in large herds.
“This year Wayanad is witnessing a mass influx of wild animals. Naturally high density of animals is bound to trigger intense fights between them,” said Wayanad wildlife warden Dhanesh Kumar.
“Though we can’t attribute these deaths directly to drought, the pressure is intense on wild animals during severe weather conditions,” Kumar added.
Veterinarian Arun Zacharia pointed out that the summer temperature this year was at least 4 degrees Celsius more than in the previous years, causing immense stress to the animals. “During scant rainfall, elephants have little option but to come out of their comfort zone in search of greener pastures,” he explained.
Wayanad witnessed 12 elephant deaths during the corresponding period last year.
With water bodies drying up in view of the crippling drought, thought to be the worst in Kerala in 115 years, locals are reporting increasing incursions by elephants into human habitation. At least four people have been trampled to death and 120 elephant incursions reported in the past four months.
The current drought has been caused by successive failed monsoons. The south-west monsoon was deficient by 33.7% and the northeast monsoon less by 60%. A majority of the state’s 44 rivers are also either dry or near-dry.