Tigers killing and eating elephants in Corbett National Park, reveals study

Published: Jun 16, 2019, 19:46 IST | mid-day online desk | New Delhi

Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey said this tiger-elephant conflict is unheard of and need immediate attention

New Delhi: In a worrying phenomenon, tigers have been found to be killing elephants and some cases eating them too, mainly young ones, in the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, according to an official government study. The findings, which is a part of the study conducted by the park authority, signals a worrying trend in wildlife as tigers usually don't eat elephants, wildlife experts say.

A total of nine tigers, 21 elephants, and six leopards were found dead from 2014 to May 31, 2019, due to infighting and clashes over issues related to mating, according to the study. "Out of the total 36 cases for the three species, 21 were reported in case of wild elephants alone. However, a very surprising aspect was that around 60 percent of wild elephant death cases (13) were due to attack by tigers mostly on young ones," it said.

Senior IFS officer and in-charge of the national park, Sanjiv Chaturvedi said the phenomenon of tigers eating elephants is unique. "One of its reasons could be that tigers need comparatively less amount of efforts and energy in killing an elephant as against that needed in hunt of species like Sambhar and Cheetal. Killing elephant results in the large quantum of food for them too," said Chaturvedi, director of the park. He said the national park has a unique ecosystem as there are 225 tigers and around 1,100 wild elephants, whereas other national parks like Ranthambore, Kanha, and Bandhavgarh mainly have tigers.

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Even in cases where elephants were killed in infighting, tigers were found eating their body parts, the study said. This peculiar aspect of tiger-elephant conflict needs to be studied in further details, it added. "Regarding remaining cases of death of wild elephants, it was mostly because of a fight due to the issue of mating," the study said.

Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey said this tiger-elephant conflict is unheard of and need immediate attention. "It is really surprising and worrying that tigers are eating elephants. Authorities must look into this aspect and take necessary steps," he said.

In the case of tigers, a total number of deaths during the five years period was nine and out of these, 80 percent (seven) cases were due to infighting, the study said. From the analysis of case reports and sample sites, these were found to be primarily due to territorial fights or mating issues, it said. Tigers have very strong territorial instincts and this emerged as one of the dominant causes of infighting deaths.

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In this regard, a detailed study about the extent of average territorial area, moving pattern and adequacy of present tiger reserve are to be studied in further details, the study suggested. The remaining 20 percent death cases were found to be because of a fight with wild boars and porcupines, it said. In the case of leopards, there were six deaths because of infighting. Of these, two third cases were due to attack by other carnivore species.

"Out of four cases, in two cases, there were definitive pieces of evidence of killing by tigers but in rest of two cases, the exact identity of attacking species is yet to be established. This aspect of the tiger-leopard conflict is to be further studied in details. In the remaining one-third cases, it was because of mutual infighting among themselves," the study said.

The study was conducted in the wake of the death of a tigress on May 27, 2019, because of infighting. "The recent case of tigress appears prima facie due to forced mating attempts by a dominant male tiger, resulting in fatal spinal injuries," it said.

The Corbett park is the first national park of India, established in 1936. It was then named Hailey National Park. In 1957, it was rechristened as the Corbett National Park in the memory of Jim Corbett, great naturalist, and eminent conservationist.

The park, which is spread in an area of around 1,200 sq km is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas. There are an estimated 340 tigers in Uttarakhand, according to 2014 census of the big cats. The state has three tiger reserves -- Corbett National Park, Rajaji Tiger Reserve, and Kalagarh Tiger Reserve.

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