Mortality records (1979–2011) shed light on threats to Asian Elephants Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758 (Mammalia: Proboscidea: Elephantidae) in Nilgiris, southern India

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Priya Davidar
Clément Rosset
Pratheesh Chacko Mammen
Jean Philippe Puyravaud
Rajeev Srivastava
Belinda Wright


We compiled records of 291 elephant deaths over a 33-year period (1979–2011) from the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and the reserved forests of Nilgiri North and South divisions of southern India from the databases of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, the Wildlife Protection Society of India and the Nilgiri Wildlife and Environment Association.  We tested the null hypothesis that the causes of elephant deaths would not differ with time, by gender and with level of protection.  We classified records by gender and age: adults (≥15 years), sub adults (5–15 years), juveniles (>1–<5) and calves (≤ 1). We organised records over 3-decade periods. The database consisted of 209 adults (≥15 years), 27 sub adults (5–15 years), 33 juveniles (>1–<5) and 22 calves (≤ 1). MTR had the maximum records (148) followed by NND (138) and NSD (4).  The median age of death was 20 years for adult males and 30 years for adult females.  Mean survival time for adult males was 22.45 years, and 31.84 for females.  Poaching was responsible for the majority of deaths (40%), particularly of male elephants (82%), and unknown causes (31%) for the majority of female deaths (66%).  Human-caused deaths, which included poaching and some accidents, averaged 72% between 1979 and 2000 and decreased to 22% during 2001–2011. Deaths due to unknown causes and diseases increased from 28% in 1979-1989 to 69% in 2001–2011.  Relative to estimated population size, deaths attributed to poaching was higher in NND (47%) than in MTR (34%).  The causes of death differed by region. In conclusion, the elephant population in the Nilgiris is at risk and needs stringent protection; the mortality database should be systematised; forensic capabilities upgraded, and detection of carcasses improved. 


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Author Biographies

Priya Davidar, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University, Kalapet, Pondicherry 605014, India

Priya Davidar is a Professor at Pondicherry University and is an ecologist and conservation biologist presently working on endangered species such as the Asian Elephant and Nilgiri Tahr.  


Clément Rosset, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University, Kalapet, Pondicherry 605014, India; and 2550 rue Saint Exupery, 38420 Le Versoud, France

Clément Rosset conducted the preliminary landscape analysis and is now working as Quality, Environmental health and Safety manager for a research department specialised in natural risk in Grenoble, France. His love for wildlife and his passion for protecting endangered and threatened species inspired him to study ecology and to contribute to conservation of taxa.  


Pratheesh Chacko Mammen, Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University, Kalapet, Pondicherry 605014, India

Pratheesh Chacko Mammen carried out research on land use changes and attitudes towards elephants among local communities in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, and helped collate the database from the records of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department.  


Jean Philippe Puyravaud, Sigur Nature Trust, Chadapatti, Mavinhalla P. O. Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu 643223, India

Jean Philippe Puyravaud is interested in conservation planning at the landscape level for endangered species and prepared the map.  


Rajeev Srivastava, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu Forest Academy, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu 641003, India

Rajeev Srivastava IFS, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Government of Tamil Nadu is currently the Director of the Tamil Nadu Forest Academy at Coimbatore. He served as a Field Director of key tiger reserves, and is dedicated to forest and wildlife conservation.  


Belinda Wright, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), S-25 Panchsheel Park, New Delhi 110017, India

Belinda Wright, a tiger conservationist and wildlife campaigner is the Founder and Executive Director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India and contributed data from the WPSI database. 



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