By Rahul Noronha
The death of two elephants — engaged in patrolling duties at the tiger reserves in the state — in quick succession has set the alarm bells ringing in the forest department.
While Ira, an eight-year-old elephant, died at the Sanjay tiger reserve in Sidhi on Friday, another female elephant Sudarshini, aged about 20 years, died while delivering a premature calf at Bandhavgarh on Thursday.
The deaths have punctured the forest department's claims of following the protocols in the upkeep of the elephants. The pachyderms are extremely crucial for patrolling in tiger reserves and regular monitoring of tiger movements.
There are about 50 elephants that are used by the state forest department for the purpose. The department is already facing a shortage of elephants and is trying to source more pachyderms from Karnataka.
Sources told HT that the autopsy report of the elephant Ira mentioned that septicemia or severe infection in the blood had led to the death. On Thursday, the female elephant Sudarshini died while giving birth to a premature calf at the Bandhavgarh tiger reserve.
Sources said in both the cases, veterinarians had no inkling of the problems faced by the elephants. In Ira's case, the infection - that would have taken many days to develop before turning lethal - went completely undetected.
In Sudarshini's case, the veterinarians were not expecting a pregnancy as the elephant had delivered a calf in 2013. The gestation period of an elephant is about 22 months and veterinarians did not expect the elephant to be pregnant so soon after the previous birth.
Standard operating procedures for elephant health include deworming and carrying out blood tests every three months. "After the deaths, we consulted the state veterinary institute to inquire why the disease could not be detected until it became fatal. We were told that in spite of the periodic tests, the onset of a disease cannot be detected sometimes," said state chief wildlife warden Narendra Kumar.