DNA profiling of elephants as part of a census has begun in Jharkhand’s Palamau Tiger Reserve, officials said on Monday. The census is being done under the guidance of a five-member team of the Wildlife Institute of India, they said.
“DNA profiling of elephants is being done to develop a scientific method for estimation of jumbo population. It is an advanced way of counting, which will help avoid inaccuracy,” WII research biologist Shahzada Iqbal, who is leading the team working on the project in the Palamau Tiger Reserve, told PTI.
In Jharkhand, the elephant census will also be conducted in Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary, around 10 km from Jamshedpur. He said that they are collecting elephant dung from the reserve area.
“This dung will be analysed for DNA profiling, which will also help understand characteristics of a particular elephant such as height, age, health and nutrition level,” he said, adding that similar exercise would be carried out in Dalma.
According to the last headcounts in 2017, there were 555 elephants in Jharkhand. The elephant census takes place every five years. In the second phase of the current census, cameras will also be installed in the reserve forest to match results from the DNA profiling, a Palamau Tiger Reserve official said.
Of the 1,129.93 sq km area of PTR, 414.08 sq km is marked as ‘core’ (critical tiger habitat), and the remaining as the ‘buffer’ zone. In the buffer zone, 53 sq km is open for tourists. The reserve forest has been divided into 51 grids for DNA profiling of elephants, PTR Deputy Director Prajesh Jena told PTI.
"The DNA profiling exercise in Palamau reserve forest is expected to conclude by the end of this month," he said, adding that there are 15 members in the census team, including five from WII. The population of elephants in the PTR is estimated around 200. “We could know the exact count after completion of the census,” Jena said.
Experts believe that scientific studies, DNA profiling and corridor identification may help reduce man-elephant conflict in Jharkhand. In its RTI reply to advocate Satya Prakash, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change stated that 462 people have died in man-elephant conflicts in five years since 2017.
Wildlife experts as well as forest officials noted that encroached corridors, shortage of forest food and habitat fragmentation are the factors exacerbating man-elephant conflicts.