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Monday, March 12, 2012

snow elephant could have been an outcast, opine conservationists

On its way to break the world record. Pic: WCD
Sightings of other animals species like Gaur and Tiger at higher altitudes and irregular roosting of Black Necked Cranes in different altitude speak volumes of how animals are responding to climate change

A lone Asiatic elephant in the country has achieved a feat none of its species has ever come close to. By stomping through the mountains, reaching a height of 3,419 meters above sea level, the four-year old tusker has broken the record of the highest altitude ever scaled by an elephant. The last record stood at 2,800 meters.

The elephant was found wandering amidst snow on a mountain at Shougay La in Chukha. The elephant was first spotted by a telecom microwave caretaker, Tashi Dawa, on February 11. “I was alerted by my dogs barking ferociously and when I checked, I was surprised to see the giant creature standing next to the barbed wire fence,” he said.
A team comprising officials from the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD) and Gedu Forest Division, Chukha was then formed to monitor the elephant.
The report compiled by the team states that the elephant’s presence was validated through the evidences such as traces of dung, footprint in the snow, feeding sign and interview with local residents.
The report says that although there was high human interference in the area due to open accessibility through road and seasonal grazing by migratory cattle herds, it did not stop the elephant from moving up to higher grounds.
The team recorded the movement of the elephant through its footprints in the snow using e-trex vista GPS track option.
According to the chief forestry officer of WCD, Sonam Wangchuk, factors of climate change and global warming effects, different components within the habitat and pressure to their existing stamping ground by human intervention could force animals to move away.
He also said that the lone elephant could have wandered away from the main herd or was driven away from the herd by the dominant male when challenging him for females during mating season.
Another reason could be that the elephant may be showing abnormal behavior which animals are likely to experience.
The report says that its endurance in the snow cover could have been supported by feeding on bamboo and continuous movement could have helped for its acclimatization in the cold weather.
The elephant wandered on the snow covered mountain for at least three to four days. With less food around the elephant descended a little where fresh bamboos were found. Finally the young elephant moved further down to its original habitat. The Gedu Forest Division will keep a close vigilance on the transit elephant for a prime reason to understand its behavior and health condition.
Habitat loss is one of the key threats facing elephants. Many climate change projection indicate that key portions of elephants’ habitat will become significantly hotter and drier, resulting in poorer foraging conditions and threatening calf survival.
Increasing conflict with human populations taking over more and more elephants habitat and poaching for ivory are additional threats that are placing the elephant’s future at risk.
Bhutan faces serious human wildlife conflicts especially with wild pigs and Asiatic elephants. And if more elephants continue to move upward the trend may also increase as elephants have been the most rampant and devastating and can cause serious harm to human lives and properties. In such desperate occasions, villagers see killing the animals as the ultimate measure.
In an exhaustive survey of nearly 1,400 species, scientists have found out that global warming is causing animals and plants to migrate further up mountains and away from the equator in attempts to avoid the higher temperatures associated with climate change.
In Bhutan, tigers are known to live in the south but recently have stunned experts as this majestic animals’ have climbed up to more than 4,000 meters above sea level encroaching the elusive snow leopards habitat. Likewise, the Gaur, a sub-tropical species, also called the Indian Bison, has been spotted at a higher altitude in Sha Ngawang in Wangduephodrang dzongkhag.
The Black necked cranes which were once found only in the north have now been visiting the south of Bhutan for its winter habitat

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