The Role of Elephants in the Forest Ecosystem and Its Conservation Problems in Southern India



The planet earth is inhabited by diverse array of living organisms such as microorganisms, plants, animals and human beings which collectively constitute the biodiversity. Each and every element of the living component of the system has its own role, either positive or negative, to play as a system component. So preservation and conservation of living organisms, whether they are tiny or large, become immense important in playing beneficial role in maintaining biodiversity. Mega-herbivorous animal such as elephant has major impact on the terrestrial ecosystems in which they live and thus on the animals that depend on these habitats. Elephant can be referred as “keystone species” because it facilitates feeding by other herbivores that disperse seeds and supports large assemblages of invertebrates, such as dung beetles, and lower plants such as algae and fungi apart from enriching soil nutrients through dung piles. These algae and fungi are preferred nutrient plants for some reptiles such as monitor lizard and star tortoise in the semiarid tropical forests. Dung beetle accumulation attracts many insectivorous birds. Dung deposition into water holes is being benefited to the Pisces and amphibians. Seed dispersal through alimentary canal induces germination and survival capacity of the seedlings to maintain the forest heterogeneity. Elephant also does some of the silvicultural practices such as creation of paths in dense forest, maintenance of grazing lawns and height of the trees and thinning in thick vegetation cover to keep the sustainable utility of the forest. Identification of subsoil water and natural salt licks through elephants’ strong sense is also shared by the other animals especially the herbivores for which intake of minerals from the natural soil is most important for many physiological activities. The pachyderm is under severe threat due to various conservation problems such as loss of habitat, habitat quality and corridors, reduction of home range, population increase, impact of developmental activities, human-elephant conflict issues and poaching for ivory. Among the factors, some of them may be responsible for major proportions, and some of them involve less proportion. But these are the reasons listed as conservation problems for the long-run conservation of Asian elephant especially in Southern India.


Asian elephant Habitat loss Fragmentation Keystone species 



This paper is part of the University Grants Commission’s Major Research Project F.No. 42-594/2013 (SR). We thank the UGC for providing fund the Major Research Project. Our sincere gratitude to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Head of Forest Force), Tamil Nadu, for issuing us permission to enter into forest areas of the Tamil Nadu part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Our special thanks to Mr. I. Anwardeen, IFS., the Conservator of Forests, Coimbatore Circle, for providing constant support to our research works. We record our sincere thanks to the District Forest Officers of Coimbatore, Nilgiri North, Nilgiri South and Gudalur forest divisions. We thank our college principal and head of the department for giving constant encouragement to our team. We thank our lab students Mr. A. Samson and Ms. A. Chitheena for helping us in various ways in the field as well as in lab.


  1. Altmann J (1974) Observational study of behaviour: sampling methods. Behaviour 49:227–267CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Arivazhagan C (2005) Population dynamics of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in Southern India. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis submitted to Bharathidasan University, TrichyGoogle Scholar
  3. Balasubramaniyan M, Baskaran N, Swaminathan S, Desai AA (1995) Crop raiding by Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, South India. In: Daniel JC, Datye HS (eds) Proceedings of the international seminar on the conservation of Asian elephants. Bombay Natural History Society, pp 350–367Google Scholar
  4. Barnes RF (1982) Elephant feeding behaviour in Ruaha National Park. Tanzania Afr J Ecol 20:123–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barnes RFW, Jenson KL (1987) How to count elephants in forest. IUCN African elephant & rhino specialist group. Tech Bull I:1–6Google Scholar
  6. Barua P, Bist SS (1995) Changing patterns in the distribution and movement of wild elephants in north Bengal. In: Daniel JC, Datye HS (eds) A week with elephants. Bombay Natural History Society/Oxford University Press, Bombay, pp 66–84Google Scholar
  7. Baskaran N (1998) Ranging and resource utilization by Asian elephant (Elephas maximus Linnaeus) in Nilgiri biosphere reserve, South India. Ph.D thesis submitted to the Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, IndiaGoogle Scholar
  8. Baskaran N, Desai AA (2000) Elephant population estimation in Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary and National Park. Final report 1999–2000. Bombay Natural History Society, BombayGoogle Scholar
  9. Baskaran N, Balasubramanian M, Swaminathan S, Desai AA (1995) Home range of elephants in the Nilgiri biosphere reserve, south India. In: Daniel JC, Datye H (eds) Proceedings of the international seminar on the conservation of the Asian elephant. Bombay Natural History Society, BombayGoogle Scholar
  10. Bist SS (2002) An overview of elephant conservation in India. Indian Forester 128:121–136Google Scholar
  11. Blair JAS, Boon GG, Noor NM (1979) Conservation or cultivation. The confrontation between the Asian elephant and land development in peninsular Malaysia. Land Dev Dig 2:27–59Google Scholar
  12. Burnham KP, Anderson DR, Laake LL (1980) Estimation of density from line transect sampling of biological populations. Wildl Monogr 72:1–202Google Scholar
  13. Daniels RJR, Gadgil M, Joshi NV (1995) Impact of human extraction on tropical humid forests in the western Ghats in Uttara Kannada, South India. J Appl Ecol 32:866–874CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Datye HS, Bhagwat AM (1993) Estimation of crop damage and the economic losses caused by elephants and its implications in the management of the elephants, a week with elephants. In: Proceedings of the international seminar on Asian elephants. Bombay Natural History Society, pp 375–389Google Scholar
  15. Datye HS, Bhagwat AM (1995) Estimation of crop damage and the economic loss caused by elephants and its implications in the management of elephants. In: Daniel JC, Datye HS (eds) Proceedings of the international seminar on the conservation of Asian elephants. Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, pp 375–379Google Scholar
  16. Dawson S (1990) A model to estimate density of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in forest habitats. M. Sc. thesis, University of Oxford, 157 pGoogle Scholar
  17. Desai AA (1991) The home range of elephants and its implications for management of the Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary, Tamil Nadu. J Bombay Nat Hist Soc 88:145–156Google Scholar
  18. Desai AA, Baskaran N (1996) Impact of human activities on the ranging behaviour of elephants in the Nilgiri biosphere reserve, South India. J Bombay Nat Hist Soc 93:559–569Google Scholar
  19. Desai AA, Johnsingh AJT (1995) Social organization and reproductive strategy of the male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) in Nilgiri biosphere reserve, South India. In: Daniel JC, Datye HS (eds) A week with elephants. Proceedings of the international seminar on the conservation of Asian elephant. Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, June 1993. Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay, p 532Google Scholar
  20. Dey A, Srivastava R, Gupta VK (1991) Robust designs – a review and bibliography. Cahiers du CERO 33(1–2):51–62Google Scholar
  21. Easa PS (1988) Movement pattern of Asiatic elephant Elephas maximus in Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala. Kerala Forest Research Institute, research report no. 54Google Scholar
  22. Easa PS, Jayaraman K (1998) Population estimation of major mammals in the forests of Kerala: 1997. Kerala Forest Research Institute, PeechiGoogle Scholar
  23. Easa PS, Sankar S (1999) Study on man-wildlife interaction in Waianae wildlife sanctuary, Kerala. KFRI Research report No.16. Kerala Forest Research Institute, PeechiGoogle Scholar
  24. Gadgil S (1988) Recent advances in monsoon research with particular reference to the Indian monsoon. Aust Meteorol Mag 36:193–204Google Scholar
  25. Gopinathan V (1990) Crop damage by elephants in Wayanad. In: Proceedings of the elephant symposium, Kerala Forest Department (Wildlife Wing), ThiruvananthapuramGoogle Scholar
  26. Hoare RE, du Toit JT (1999) Coexistence between people and elephants in African savannas. Conserv Biol 13:633–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hoare R (2000) African elephants and humans in conflict: the outlook for co-existence. Oryx 34(01):34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnsingh AJT, Panwar HS (1992) Elephant conservation in India-problems and prospects. Theriological CongressGoogle Scholar
  29. Joshua J, Johnsingh AJT (1995) Ranging pattern of elephants in Rajaji National Park: implication for reserve design. In: Daniel JC, Datye HS (eds) A week with elephants. Proceedings of the international seminar on the conservation of Asian elephant. Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, June 1993. Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay, pp 256–260Google Scholar
  30. Karanth KU, Madhusudan MD (2002) Mitigating human wildlife conflicts in southern Kerala. Indian Forester 22:949–953Google Scholar
  31. Karanth KU, Sunquist ME (1992) Population structure, density and biomass of large herbivores in the tropical forests of Nagarahole, India. J Trop Ecol 8:21–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kumar MA (2006) Effect of habitat fragmentation on Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) ecology and behaviour patterns in a conflict-prone plantation landscape of the Anamalai hills, Western Ghats, India. Final report submitted to Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation, UKGoogle Scholar
  33. Madhusudan MD (2003) Uneasy neighbours: human resource use and large mammal conservation in the tropical forests of Karnataka, south India. PhD thesis, National Institute of Advanced Studies/Manipal Academy of Higher Education, IndiaGoogle Scholar
  34. McKay GM (1973) The ecology and behaviour of the Asiatic elephant in south eastern Ceylon. Smithson Contrib Zool 125:1–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Menon V, Tiwari SK, Easa PS, Sukumar R (2005) Right of passage: elephant corridors of India. Conservation Reference Series 3. Wildlife Trust of India, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  36. Mishra J (1971) An assessment of annual damage to crops by elephants in Palamau District, Bihar. Bombay Nat Hist Soc 68:307–310Google Scholar
  37. MoEF (2010) Project elephant report. Ministry of environment and forests. Government of India, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  38. Nath CD, Sukumar R (1998) Elephant-human conflict in Kodagu, southern India: distribution patterns, people’s perceptions and mitigation methods. Asian Elephant Conservation Centre, BangaloreGoogle Scholar
  39. Olivier RDC (1978) Distribution and status of the Asian elephant. Oryx 14:379–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ramakrishnan B (2008) Significance of corridors to Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and strategies for their conservation and management in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, Tamil Nadu, South India. Unpublished Ph.D thesis submitted to the Bharathidasan University, Trichy, IndiaGoogle Scholar
  41. Ramakrishnan B, Durairasu P (2005) Human-elephant conflict mitigating measures in the Coimbatore Forest Division, Tamil Nadu, India. OSAI Technical Report No. 3, CoimbatoreGoogle Scholar
  42. Ramakrishnan B, K Ramkumar (2007) Land acquisition perspectives of vital elephant corridors in the Coimbatore and Sathyamangalam Forest Divisions, Tamil Nadu, South India. Report submitted to Wildlife Trust of India, New DelhiGoogle Scholar
  43. Ramakrishnan B, Sivaganesan N, Srivastava RK (1997) Human interference and its impact on the elephant corridors in Sathyamangalam and Coimbatore Forest Divisions, Tamil Nadu, Southern India. Indian J For 20(1):8–19Google Scholar
  44. Ramakrishnan U, Santosh JA, Ramakrishnan U, Sukumar R (1998) The population and conservation status of Asian elephant in Periyar Tiger Reserve, Southern India. Curr Sci 74:110–113Google Scholar
  45. Rameshkumar S, Sathyanarayna MC (1993) Crop raiding patterns in hosur and Dharmapuri forest divisions Dharmapuri district Tamil Nadu. Abstracts, International seminar on the conservation of the Asian elephant, Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, June 1993. Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay, p 29Google Scholar
  46. Santiapillai C (1987) Action plan for Asian elephants conservation – a country by country analysis- a complication. World wide Fund for Nature, IndonesiaGoogle Scholar
  47. Santiapillai C (1994) Elephant mortality in Sri Lanka. Gajah 72:48–54Google Scholar
  48. Santiapillai C, De Silva M (1994) An action plan for the conservation and management of elephant (Elephas maximus) in Sri Lanka. Gajah 13:1–24Google Scholar
  49. Saunders DA, Reberia CP (1991) Values of corridors to avian populations in a fragmented landscape. In: Saunders DA, Hobb RJ (eds) Nature conservation: the role of corridors. Survey Beathy and Sons, Clipping Norton, pp 221–240Google Scholar
  50. Singh P (2001) The construction of rail roads, highways and canals are playing havoc with migratory patterns, segregating elephants populations and other wildlife. Apart from accidental death, inbreeding and shrinking genetic pools, man-animal conflict is also on the raise. Sanctuary Asia, AugustGoogle Scholar
  51. Sitati NW, Walpole MJ, Smith RJ, Leader-Williams N (2003) Predicting spatial aspects of human-elephant conflict. J Appl Ecol 40:667–677CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smith R, Kasiki S (1999) A spatial analysis of human-elephant conflict in the Tsavo ecosystem, IUCN African elephant specialist group report. Submitted to world wildlife fund for nature, Nepal, Nature Conservation FoundationGoogle Scholar
  53. Sukumar R (1985) Ecology of the Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) and its interaction with man in South India. Ph.D. Thesis. Indian Institute of Science, BangaloreGoogle Scholar
  54. Sukumar R (1989a) Ecology of the Asian elephant in southern India. I movement and habitat utilization patterns. J Trop Ecol 5:1–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sukumar R (1989b. The Asian elephants ecology and management, Cambridge University Press, Great Britain, 251 pGoogle Scholar
  56. Sukumar R (1990) Ecology of the Asian elephants in Southern India. Part: II feeding habitats and crop raiding patterns. J Trop Ecol 6:33–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sukumar R (1991) The management of large mammals in relation to male strategies and conflict with people. Biol Conserv 55:93–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sukumar R, Gadgil M (1988) Male-female differences in foraging on crops by Asian elephants. Anim Behav 36(4):1233–1235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sukumar R, Santiapillai C (1996) Elephas maximus: status and distribution. In: Shoshani J, Tassy P (eds) The proboscidea: evolution and palaeoecology of elephants and their relatives. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 327–331Google Scholar
  60. Thouless CR (1994) Conflict between humans and elephants on private land in northern Kenya. Oryx 28:119–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Varman KS, Sukumar R (1995) The line transect method for estimating densities of large mammals in a tropical deciduous forest: an evaluation of models and field experiments. J Biosci 20:273–287CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Veeramani A, Jayson EA (1995) A survey of crop damage by wild animals in Kerala. Indian Forester 22:949–953Google Scholar
  63. Veeramani A, Jayson EA, Easa PS (1996) Man-wildlife conflict: cattle lifting and human casualties in Kerala. Indian Forester 122:897–902Google Scholar
  64. Williams AC, Johnsingh AJT (1996a) Threatened elephant corridors in Garo hills, North east India. Gajah 16:61–68Google Scholar
  65. Williams AC, AJT Johnsingh (1996b) Status survey of elephants (Elephas maximus), their habitats and an assessment of elephant – human conflict in Garo hills, Meghalaya. Final Report, Wildlife Institute of IndiaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology & Wildlife BiologyMammalogy and Forest Ecology Lab, Government Arts CollegeThe NilgirisIndia
  2. 2.PG and Research Department of ZoologyGovernment Arts College (Autonomous)KumbakonamIndia

Personalised recommendations