BHUBANESWAR: Wildlife lovers fear the number of elephants in Chandaka Wildlife Sanctuary, once known as a robust habitat, may come down drastically due to increasimg human actvities and lack of fodder. In the 2012-13 census, authorities recorded presence of only 23 elephants in the sanctuary while a decade ago their number was around 80.
The wildlife wing of the forest department will carry out elephant census for three days in the state from Tuesday. The department has made adequate provisions for forest personnel to take up the counting exercise.
The sanctuary no more remains a suitable habitat for pachyderms for several factors, said retired forest officer Akshaya Patra. "Migration of elephants is not unusual. They migrate and return to original base. But in case of Chandaka it is not happening. There has been increasing human interference and shortage of fodder. Elephants are migrating in search of food," said Patra.
Environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty said the state government allowed urban settlements around the sanctuary and they ate into the habitat. "So many concrete structures have come up near the sanctuary. Human habitation has also increased manifold. Sighting of deer and peacocks will be rare, let alone jumbos, if steps are not taken to restore the habitat," said Mohanty.
"Man-elephant conflict has increased as construction activities continue unabated in pachyderm habitats," he added.
Divisional forest officer (Chandaka) Manoj Mohapatra admitted the big mammals are straying into Athgarh region. "We have been trying to improve fodder in the sanctuary but it is not enough in terms of quantity and quality. We have planted 5,000 banana trees in the sanctuary. But in recent past it was seen elephants like freshly-harvested paddy than bananas. An adult elephant eats about 200 kg of food a day," said Mohapatra. Last year, the Chandaka authorities took up a plantation project to increase the density of fodder plants (plants whose leaves serve as fodder for animals). The fodder plants included low-height leafy species.
"The plants will take two years to grow. We are planning to plant 55,000 bamboo trees too," said Mohapatra.