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The first-ever DNA profile-based census of elephants was completed in India by the Wild Life Institute of India(WII) in mid-September. WII officials hinted that the population of the pachyderm in India is likely to go up as their population has been recorded with more accuracy than was done in the past.
The WII conducted the census in all 21 elephant-range states of the country known for their elephant populations before monsoon jointly with the respective states.
According to the information shared by the WII Director Virendra Tiwari, camera traps were also used for data extrapolation of the DNA samples collected from the elephant dung.
Sharing the information at the institute’s annual research workshop on Thursday, the WII director said, “The elephant census report has been sent to the Centre and it will soon be released by the Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
He said the Wildlife Institute is consistently working for the conservation of elephants. The DNA-based census technique was adopted for the first time to enumerate the elephant population. Prior to this, it was successfully done in the tiger census resulting in the rise in the big cat population.
The DNA-based census technique was employed mainly to attain more accuracy in data analysis and extrapolation. Earlier, the elephant population census was held on the block count method which lacked the ability to determine their exact number.
The DNA-sample census was selected from five-six prevalent methods of pachyderm census, said Tiwari.
When contacted, senior Uttarakhand Forest Department officials disclosed under condition of anonymity that although they could not tell the exact number of elephants found in this census, the number of elephants is likely to go up when Union Forest and Environment Ministry makes the report public.
“We hope the numbers may go up this time against that of the last census. However, we are keeping our fingers crossed. We are banking on the census method adopted by the WII,” said a senior state Wildlife Division official.
It may be noted here that the Union Ministry of Forest and Environment had, in 2023, decided to carry out DNA profiling of the elephants in view of the completion of 30 years of Project Elephant to protect and conserve the pachyderm in India.
The elephant population in the country was recorded at 29,964 during the 2017 census. WII officials claimed that the first baseline survey was done through the DNA census method followed by a collection of elephant dung samples. According to Tiwari, the DNA profiling method helped in determining the approximate age of the elephants along with several other information.
Tiwari said the DNA profiling also helped identify elephant corridors to reduce human-elephant conflict. About 1,000 elephant habitats were discovered in close proximity to temples and other institutions in states like Assam and Kerala.
The DNA profiling was of immense help in getting detailed information about the elephants, their behaviour, characteristics, and preventing illegal trade of their body parts, said the WII director.