It is worshipped and used in religious rituals, but also slogs it out in labour camps; it features prominently in our history and mythology, but is also an icon of modern India. In a bid to give elephant conservation the same momentum of national pride that ‘Save the Tiger' campaigns evoke, the government has decided to declare the jumbo as a national heritage animal.

This comes in the wake of last year's move to have the Gangetic dolphin declared as the national aquatic animal, as it symbolises the health of the country's rivers.

The government is backing up its declaration with a move to amend the Wildlife Protection Act and set up a National Elephant Conservation Authority, similar to the existing National Tiger Conservation Authority. The amendment is likely to be moved in the winter session of Parliament, according to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

This must be accompanied by a “substantial enhancement in the budgetary outlay,” said the Project Elephant task force, headed by conservationist Mahesh Rangarajan, which submitted its recommendations to Mr. Ramesh on Tuesday.

NECA would help in long-term planning and a coordinated effort to conserve the elephant – with its current population of over 25,000 animals – well before its numbers dwindle to panic levels like the 1,000 tigers left in India. Recommended steps include increasing the number of elephant reserves in the country, monitoring elephant populations, curbing, poaching, and man-animal conflicts, and protecting elephant corridors by regulating development activities and relocating local populations. Apart from wild jumbos, the 3,500 captive elephants – many at temples and zoos – must also be protected, says the report.