An Indian federal government study published last month after four years of research reveals that elephants prefer food crops to forest fodder and often walk huge distances every year to ‘dine’ at the same farmland.
In preparation for the project, carried out in West Bengal, wildlife experts and volunteers installed radio and satellite collars on elephants to track their movements.
Elephants used to migrate from forest to forest along ‘corridors’ but now increasingly find their way blocked by the encroachment of farmland and country villages.
As their natural habitat shrinks, so the elephants are changing their eating habits, opting for the crops they find in their path over their traditional forest diet — and often going back for more as they gradually memorize the harvest cycle.
A century ago, India was home to about 50,000 wild elephants, but that figure has since been more than halved. Traditionally shot by poachers for their precious ivory tusks, the animals are now sometimes killed by villagers keen to protect their crops.
West Bengali wildlife officials hope that the problem can be solved by relocating villages and re-establishing the elephants’ migration corridors.
Wildlife Protection Scoeity of India