Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala forests have become a 'graveyard' of wild elephants with as many as 270 deaths being reported this year since January, according to an animal rights campaigner, a figure contested by government which has termed the numbers as 'exaggerated'.
As many as 40 per cent of the dead animals were males and 60 per cent were females, the figures released by Thrissur based Heritage Animal Task Force said.
The carcasses of 125 elephants had been reported found in the forests of Valparai, Athirappally, Vazhachal, Idamalyar, Pooyamkutty, Idukki and Munnar region, it said.
A total of 32 carcasses had been spotted in Malappuram district while 41 in south Wayanad forest areas, 37 in north Wayanad and 35 carcasses in Parambikulam, Palakkad and Walayar Forest areas, it said.
"From poaching to intake of plastic and poisonous articles and electrocution caused the death of wild elephants in Kerala forests," Task Force Secretary V K Venkatachalam told PTI.
"There are ample hideout areas for poachers in many forest regions in Kerala. Lack of enough wildlife guards is one of the major reasons for the presence of poachers in the forest areas, which share borders with neighbouring Karnataka and Tamil Nadu," he said.
Of the total dead pachyderms, 20 per cent belonged to below two-years-old, 30 per cent in the age group of 2-29 years, 40 per cent in 30-50 years old and 10 per cent were above 50 years of age, he said.
The activist also said 30 per cent of carcasses of wild jumbos were found in areas near water bodies, which clearly indicate that they may have consumed poisonous food items from encroached plantations and farmhouses inside forests.
However, the state Forest Department feels this is an 'exaggerated' figure.
"As per our figures, a total of 97 elephants have died in the state forests during the period 2014-15. The exact figures of wild jumbo deaths of this year will be available only by March. I think, the figures of 270 wild elephant deaths is an exaggerated one," Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests O P Kaler told PTI.
As many as 35 wild jumbos had died during 2013-14, 47 in 2012-13, 53 in 2011-12, 68 in 2010-11, and 46 in 2009-10, he said, quoting the department figures.
Kaler said though as per their information most of the elephant deaths were due to natural causes, but there had been instances of deliberate electrocution, contagious diseases and poaching.
He said though the presence of poachers was reported in some areas of the state forests, elephant deaths due to poaching was not rampant in Kerala.
As the state forests share borders with neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, joint patrolling and joint camps are also conducted with the support of forest departments in these states, he said.
"We share information of poachers with our counterparts in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and coordinate things with them," he said.
Meanwhile, Venkatachalam alleged that the Kerala wildlife officials do not show any interest to send the viscera of wild elephant carcasses to the Hyderabad-based Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology for forensic test to determine the actual cause of death.
"A circular issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest in 2003 has clearly stated that the state governments must sent the viscera of wild animals and protected species, found dead inside forest areas or inside areas near forests, to the accredited forensic lab at Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology," he said.
The state wildlife officials sent viscera of wild animals to local forensic labs which have no accreditation and therefore all the cases of wild animal death remain a mystery, he said.