With tigers having hogged the limelight in Indian conservation, “Save the elephant” simply doesn’t have the same roar. The government has now set up a task force to ensure that Project Elephant gets the same attention as Project Tiger.
“Project Elephant was set up 20 years ago, but it has meandered. It has simply not taken off,” says Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. “Project Tiger is very visible…and gets lots of funding and attention. I am simply saying that the elephant is also very important for our culture.”
On Friday, the Ministry announced that the task force, set up to make conservation and management of wild and captive elephants more effective, will submit its report by the end of May. It has been asked to devise an institutional framework to ensure that Project Elephant gets “the same impetus and is brought at par with Project Tiger” at both the Central and State levels, according to a Ministry statement.
One of the reasons why elephant conservation may have lagged behind is simply the relative lack of urgency in the numbers -- while there are more than 27,000 elephants in India, there are just about 1,400 tigers.
However, the Minister believes a lack of organisation is also to blame for the lack of attention to elephant conservation, explaining that the task force’s focus on building “an institutional framework.”
“We need to bring in better organisation across all levels…Like the Tiger Conservation Authority, maybe we need something like that,” said Mr. Ramesh.
“The monitoring and implementation system for Project Tiger is very good. It has its own well-established framework. We need to be able to replicate that,” says S. Vincent, a task force member and member of the steering committee for Project Elephant.
Dr. Vincent also believes that more funding -- currently Project Elephant has a Rs.21 crore allocation -- could bring in better research. “Project Tiger has a much better research component, so a lot of breeding and tracking plans are possible.”
Mr. Ramesh points out that there are plenty of areas of convergence between tiger and elephant conservation. Often, the two animals share a common habitat. There could be benefits in combining efforts to save both.
The task force could suggest amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It will explore issues relating to elephant reserves, human-elephant conflicts, methods to track and monitor wild elephants and specialised training for field staff. So what’s next on the cards? “After this, I want to push for rhinos.”