Kerala may have undercounted almost 2,700 elephants in the latest elephant census, the response to a question in the Lok Sabha on India’s elephant numbers indicated.In 2017, the Union environment ministry reported that there were 27,312 elephants on average in the country according to figures collated from 23 States, a decline from the 29,576 elephants recorded as the mean figure in 2012. The exercise was part of the elephant census, conducted once in 5 years under the aegis of Project Elephant.In response to a question on the ‘census of wild animals’, the environment ministry said on Friday that the updated 2017 figures showed 29,964 elephants on average, or a slight increase from 2012’s mean. The earlier 2017 figures indicated that Kerala had only 3,054 elephants whereas, Friday’s number showed Kerala as having 5,706 elephants. The Andaman and Nicobar islands was the only other region that showed a different number from its 2017 estimate: 25 as opposed to the earlier 19.Direct count methodA scientist associated with the census said that the discrepancy had resulted from Kerala’s insistence in 2017 on using a technique called the ‘direct count’ method. “When word began to get around that the elephant population had declined, they changed tack,” the scientist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Hindu.Dung sightingsBecause sighting animals in the wild is hard, researchers over the years have used several proxies as well as statistical techniques to estimate population. The method in vogue is the ‘indirect count’ method that estimates populations in a region based on sightings of elephant dung. Kerala’s revised figure — as the answer to the Lok Sabha indicates — is likely based on the indirect count.