Trumpeting their cause

With ever-shrinking forests, the habitat of the elephant is fast disappearing. What can we do to protect them?

July 18, 2011 03:20 pm | Updated 03:20 pm IST

Decreasing forest space. Photo: M. Aananda Kumar

Decreasing forest space. Photo: M. Aananda Kumar

It is fascinating to watch a herd of elephants from a distance. The manner in which they browse, play with each other, and care for their calves is riveting. We wonder about the similarities between elephant and human families in terms of emotional bond, social behaviour, and the ability to empathise. At the same time we fear and dislike them when they come into our fields and destroy our crops that we raised for many months spending our energy and money or when we see them ‘mercilessly' trample and kill human beings. But do we ponder why they do such things?

True, it is sad to see such incidents. But do we realise how inhuman some of the things we have done and still continue to do against them are?

The home of elephants, our forests and grasslands, is shrinking day by day. There are reservoirs, railway lines, roads, pipelines, and human habitation on their paths of migration — the elephant corridor. Elephants have to traverse all these between one patch of forest to another. This corridor too is not free from encroachments, barriers, or difficulties.

It is not elephant habitat alone that has suffered but elephant societies, too. When males are killed for their tusks (ivory), the sex ratio is skewed. When a matriarch is killed — as she may be in retaliation for suspected crop-damage, a fast-plying train, electrocution or by consuming pesticide by mistake, that family loses their leader and direction. When they are separated or smuggled out of their family for our recreation or servitude in temples and camps, they are orphaned. When their habitat is fragmented they are disconnected from their relatives and they become refugees in their own land.

If we see a member of our community or clan murdered, we are upset and protest, we demand justice and lend our support in whatever way we can. Why? Because we feel their pain. Elephants are social beings like us. They care for their young ones and fellow family members like we do. From studying them, many biologists and elephant scientists say that we should not see the elephants as an object. We need to recognise them as sentient creatures, as another society. Unless we understand their need and feel their pain, conserving elephants will continue to be a challenging task.

Further reading

>http://moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/ ETF_REPORT_FINAL.pdf

The Elephant Charter: >http://www.theelephantcharter.info/

Elephant Voices: >http://elephantvoices.org/

>http://conservation.in/blog/the-deaths-of-osama/

>http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/bear-in-mind

Gajahspeak

As Gajah, the report of the Elephant Task Force constituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests says, we need a coordinated and concentrated effort by government and society to secure the future for our National Heritage Animal.

Some recommendations

No alteration to existing elephant corridors

Involve local community in protection

Constitute local management committees in every elephant reserve

Initiate long-term scientific studies on elephant ecology and census methods

Control the ivory trade

Improve care and management of captive elephants

Establish high conflict zone mitigation task forces

‘Grain for grain' compensation of crops lost due to conflict

Create awareness about the importance and the value of elephants

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