What happens to animal carcasses in the wild?

A Karnataka government order last year said the Forest Department must leave carcasses of wild animals untouched and allow them to decompose naturally

Earlier forest department officials in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka buried or incinerated the remains of wild animals, but with dignified funeral rituals

Conservationists in the densely forested Male Mahadeshwara hills say dead animals were buried with dignity, indicating the forest staff’s bond with animals they protect

Rangers and higher officials would carry out the last rites of dead animals, with their body parts intact, including tusks, pelts, antlers and tiger nails

They would also keep watch over the burial site to thwart any attempts by poachers to exhume the carcass to recover commercially valuable body parts

In zoos, animals are given their own final resting places. Animal rights activists often take part in the last rites of the animals and visitors find the rituals moving

Now, only animals that die near human habitations on the edge of forests, or in zoos will be given a proper funeral with flowers and rituals as before

This became a policy change following a path-breaking report by nationally acclaimed wildlife scientist Dr Sanjay Gubbi

Dr Gubbi’s report enables a deep understanding of wild animals’ place in nature. Carcasses are vital to the environment as they supply food for a range of organisms

Animal carcasses contain a lot of nutrients and provide food to scavengers in the forests, such as a variety of indigenous vultures whose food sources were dwindling

These vultures are categorised as Critically Endangered or Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Research says animal carcasses boost bacteria and fungal growth in the soil for years at a time, suggesting long-term benefits for the forest ecosystem

An elephant carcass adds nitrogen in up to 1.5 feet of soil; feeds bacterial and fungal growth for 40 months; and is a calcium source for hyenas and porcupines

Based on Dr Gubbi’s report, the Karnataka government reformed animal carcass management in forests, zoological parks, elephant camps and wildlife reserves

The Forest Department through a government order directed department officials to be as non-invasive as possible when they find animal carcasses in the wild