Elephants are wide ranging species and can range over 1000 sq km to fulfill their ecological needs. Moreover, elephants need upto 200 kg of fodder every day which means it has to be constantly on the lookout for food. The elephant landscape in northern part of West Bengal stretches from the River Mechi in the Indo-Nepal border in the West to River Sankosh in the Bengal-Assam border in the East. The 5000 sq km landscape is home to approximately 500 elephants. The region is like a mosaic of forest patches connected via Tea-plantations. This means that the elephants need to be constantly on the move between forest patches and through the tea estates. This brings them in regular contact with people. We have assessed elephant habitat-selection over a 1200 sq km non-forested landscape to identify the factors with determine elephant presence in a particular area. We found that elephant habitat-use is postitively determined by the presence of forest patches within tea-estates and is also high in areas which connect two adjoining forests. We use the term corridor for such areas and our aim is to strengthen these corridors and to secure safe passage for the elephants. This would be critical for long term elephant conservation as well as conflict mitigation in the long run.
Home Range and Movement Routes
Our conservation and conflict mitigation program is grounded in sound science. All our ecological and social studies inform conservation and management. We are currently using GPS-Telemetry to track elephant herds in the tea/forest landscape of West Bengal. The tracking of the herds gives us vital insights into the seasonal movement routes of the elephants and also enable us to prevent accidents by informing local people about elephant presence. The West Bengal Forest Department, Wildlife Wing plays a crucial role in this aspect since the monitoring and deployment of staff is conducted by department officials. Prof. Raman Sukumar from the Indian Institute of Science and Asian Nature Conservation Foundation has been the guiding force behind this project.
Citizen Science Based Population Monitoring
Science should not be restricted to researchers only and the joy of scientific knowledge and inquiry needs to be shared with the larger public. With this aim, we started our Citizen Science Program in 2015 using Facebook as the medium. The northern Bengal landscape is fortunate to have many wildlife enthusiasts and photographers. Our team coordinated with such enthusiasts to create a group called 'Mahakal', an Adivasi name for Elephant-God. Using the contributions from our facebook friends, we are able to track the locations of more than 25 bull elephants across the north Bengal region. Do visit our facebook page and learn more about this initiative.