‘Lantana elephants’ to the rescue

Giant message: Artists of Shola Trust, Thorapallai, making elephant displays from Lantana.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Conservationists have come up with a unique way to highlight a threat to the Asian elephant in the Nilgiris: make elephant sculptures out of the threatening species and take them around as art exhibits. The threat, in this case, is the invasive weed Lantana camara, which has been reducing the elephants’ fodder base in the region.

For some time now, local tribal artisans have been busy constructing ‘lantana elephants’, which weigh about 300 kg and are eight feet tall. Soon to be showcased as an art exhibit, each lantana elephant from Gudalur, located 45 km from Udhagamandalam, has a unique story to tell.

The sculptures are handmade from lantana vines, which have taken over large swathes of the elephant’s fragmented habitat. The elephants are sculpted by tribal artisans working for the Shola Trust, a non-profit involved in nature conservation in the Nilgiris. One such sculpture is of an elephant known locally as ‘Ganesan’. It was one of the oldest elephants in Gudalur, until its death last year.

Tarsh Thekaekara, a conservationist from the Shola Trust, said that the lantana elephants from Thorapalli in Gudalur serve a three-fold purpose. “First, they will help raise awareness about the spread of Lantana camara in the Nilgiris, and the threat this weed poses to local elephant populations. Second, it provides livelihoods to indigenous communities, and finally, the sale of the lantana elephants can help raise funds for conservation of the Asian elephant,” Mr Thekaekkara said.

“We work with Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, who also provide us the lantana for the sculptures,” said Subhash Gautam, another member of Shola Trust.

In the workshop in Thorapalli, about 30 members from the indigenous Paniya and Betta Kurumba communities are involved in the production of the sculptures. “Each sculpture is based on an elephant in the Gudalur-Pandalur region, with their unique features incorporated into the design,” said Subhash Gautam, adding that around 70 workers from indigenous communities are employed at the two workshops where the sculptures are made.

Funds generated through the sale of the sculptures will be used for elephant conservation work. Speaking to The Hindu, Ruth Ganesh, Principal Trustee of Elephant Family, a charity that works towards conserving the Asian elephant, said, We have a long-standing partnership with The Shola Trust, and their idea of producing these sculptures from Lantana camara plants is ecologically brilliant.”

“Their deep conservation knowledge, and their idea of making these sculptures from natural materials using wonderful artists from local indigenous communities will help to raise awareness about the threats facing Asian elephants,” said Ms. Ruth.

“We hope that the profits we generate will go some way towards our goal of raising five million dollars for the Asian Elephant Fund, which will be used for conservation work to protect Asian elephants in the 13 countries where they’re found,” added Ms. Ruth.

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 1:59:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/lantana-elephants-to-the-rescue/article26094116.ece

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