21/06/2016 12:20 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

39 Elephants Have Died In Odisha But No One Knows Why

Majority World via Getty Images
An elephant blocks the road in Nandankan, meaning Garden of Gods, a wildlife sanctuary in Orissa, India. June 24, 2005. (Photo by: Majority World/UIG via Getty Images)

Since April last year, at least 39 elephants have reported to have died in Odisha, but the state forest department's wildlife wing appears to be clueless. The government officials apparently came to know of the elephant deaths months later in some cases, only finding the carcasses of these jumbos, without learning of the cause of their death.

An Odisha-based NGO, Wildlife Society of Orissa, has claimed that the elephant deaths are much higher. According to them, 91 elephants have died in the past 14 months. At least 17 elephants are suspected to have been poached since the beginning of this year, claimed the NGO, as per their records shared with HuffPost India. As many of the carcasses have decomposed by the time they are discovered, forest officials claim that the reasons behind their deaths cannot be ascertained.

"In most cases the bodies were found after weeks in highly decomposed state making it easier to conceal the truth but difficult to catch the culprits," the NGO's secretary Biswajit Mohanty had written in a letter to the environment department earlier this month. "This is clearly unacceptable since lakhs of rupees are spent every month on trackers who are supposed to follow elephant herds on a 24x7 basis. A dead elephant should have been detected within hours which is not happening."

File photo of one of the elephants who died in Odisha. (Courtesy: Wildlife Society of Orissa)

Indian elephants are an endangered species. Their current population is about 20,000-25,000 according to the World Wildlife Organisation. Male elephants are usually poached for ivory tusks, skewing the sex ratio among elephants.

Last year, the elephant population in Odisha had risen by 24, taking the total population in the state to 1,954. However, since then, elephants have reportedly died in the forests of Keonjhar, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Sambalpur, Dhenkanal, Angul, Deogarh, Kandhamal, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj districts.

According to Mohanty, Odisha has less than 100 mature and healthy breeding tuskers. If the current trend of poaching continues, all these elephants will be killed in the next five or six years.

At the end of last year, state forest and environment minister Bikram Keshari Arukh had told winter session of the Parliament that 85 elephants had died in Odisha and his government did not know the reason. Earlier this month, state chief minister Naveen Patnaik called for "zero tolerance" against illegal wildlife trade.

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