WCS – India has been actively involved in the study and conservation of the Asian Elephant. Monitoring the integrity and quality of wildlife habitats, threat assessment and conservation monitoring of key populations has been an integral part of our conservation approach for Asian elephants.

North-east India: We are actively working in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape in Assam with a mix of forest land and tea gardens where elephants abound. Every monsoon, large parts of this World Heritage Site are inundated by the Brahmaputra river. While this seasonal flooding helps maintain the park’s rich biodiversity, it also forces animals out of the park, on a risky journey across highly populated terrain. Corridors that exist between habitats are narrow and elephants face conflict when they move out.

Along with the Department of Environment and Forest, Government of Assam, the team is creating a photographic database of individual elephants in the park. Tracking individual elephants can provide valuable insights on the routes each one takes, as well as help identify specific animals prone to visiting paddy fields. An understanding of individual elephant behaviour can then be put to use to reduce conflict situations. Interview surveys across estates reveal that most people support conservation but worry about safety.

The conflict mitigation proposal includes forming a network of wildlife-friendly tea gardens and educating people against mobbing elephants. Building a database of the elephant population, conducting surveys among human populations, suggesting solutions are some activities undertaken.

West Bengal: Leopard and elephant attacks were leading to a heavy loss of life, limb and crops in the bio-diversity hotspots of Jalpaiguri and Duars of northern West Bengal. With tea estates and agricultural lands regularly intersecting forests, these areas host a high human population and see large-scale movement of leopards and elephants.

Our study in association with the Duars Branch of Indian Tea Association, Tea Association of India, West Bengal Forest Department, Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, and Indian Institute of Science, has been exploring ways to resolve human-animal conflict through methods such as camera trappings of leopards and elephant drives, as well as providing compensation to humans.

Conservation can succeed only when it does not negatively impact humans, underlining the importance of local assistance in conservation efforts. The team has been working in more than 60 tea estates and over 40 villages in the region, with people in 17 high conflict areas being taught measures to avoid encounters from the wild.

Western Ghats: Beginning with estimation of elephant densities in a c. 1002 area within Nagarahole in 1998, our earlier research on elephant population dynamics later scaled up to cover all key elephant populations (including the largest population globally in Nagarahole-Bandipur-Wayanad) in the central Western Ghats. We assessed elephant distribution (and factors driving these patterns) across a 22,000 kmlandscape in the Western Ghats of Karnataka.  Our scientists have also carefully examined the advantages and disadvantages of various widely-used approaches used to monitoring elephant populations by scientists and managers using our own field data, and we make several recommendations for reliable population monitoring of this endangered mega-herbivore.

Student projects supported by WCS – India have also addressed a variety of questions, including prevalence of disease in wild elephants, impact of landcover changes on human-elephant conflict, factors affecting elephant distribution and conflict in a fragmented landscape, among others.