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The elephant man

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MAN VS ELEPHANT Whose life is it anyway?
MAN VS ELEPHANT Whose life is it anyway?

With the right information and action, we can protect the environment, says K. Kalidasan, president, Osai

K. Kalidasan is a worried man, but he is not without hope. He worries about the Western Ghats and he worries about elephants. But he is hopeful that once people are more enlightened they will not harm either. His organisation Osai does just that - enlighten people about how fragile Nature actually is. "There is a lot of research work on environmental conservation. But it is pointless if people know nothing about it," says Kalidasan, its president. So Osai attempts to create a network that connects environmentalists, administrators and the common people. Almost all south Indian cities depend on water resources from the Western Ghats. Most people don't know this, says Kalidasan. "The forest cover in the Western Ghats is our last line of defence. If that goes, we will become a desert." A frightening thought that gets scarier when one learns of the unbridled degradation of forests in the name of tourism. Kalidasan attributes this not to wilful destruction but rather to ignorance of the people. Either way, it has far reaching consequences for the environment and the people should be told about this. Take the increasing incidents of elephants straying into habitations. Kalidasan insists it is not elephants that are straying, but humans who have transgressed boundaries. "The elephants are moving along the same path their ancestors have trodden for thousands of years. It is imprinted in their genes. If you see an elephant at a particular spot today, you can rest assured that on the same day, next year, you will find it at the same spot - provided no one has tampered with its pathway that we call the elephant corridor." Kalidasan feels passionately for the pachyderms and says how in a year an elephant herd covers 500 sq km. An adult elephant consumes 250-300 kg of food and 150 litres of water a day. They are picky eaters and eat only certain kind of foliage. If their corridor is blocked off, then their area of movement shrinks and along with it, their feeding options. Trouble arises when estates, dams, plantations and tourist resorts, encroach upon this corridor. "Large tracts are fenced off as patta land. But the elephants have no way of knowing that and so they bash on regardless - and therefore the human/elephant conflict," he explains. Kalidasan says that enough research has been done on elephant corridors. Scientists have identified the corridors. And it is time the government stepped in and purchased these areas, even from private owners. A lot of international organisations are willing to help out. But before all that happens, people have to wake up to their surroundings. Says Kalidasan, "No matter how much money America has or how powerful it is, elephants will never roam its forests and neither will neem trees ever grow there. This environment is our precious legacy. We should be proud of it and guard it zealously."PANKAJA SRINIVASAN

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