The Hindu mythology believes that when the ocean was churned there was a war going on between the Devas (Gods) and Asuras (Demons) for becoming immortal, elephant was one of the nine jewels to be surfaced. Since then, the animal is of great importance to human both in terms of holiness and survival. It is considered as the important cultural icon in Hinduism from then onwards. But the cruel actions of the most intelligent beings on earth have made the existence of these giant species difficult. Their status has reduced to endangered species and the population has declined from a million to less than 50,000. Therefore, making it a huge problem to worry about.
NATURE OF ASIAN ELEPHANTS
Considered as the largest land mammal of the Asian continent, Asian elephants are common in dry and wet forests or grasslands. These elephants form herds which are small in size and are led by the oldest female, the matriarch. They are basically crepuscular i.e. they sleep during the day and are active during the dusk or dawn. They have highly developed neocortex which is mostly responsible for their intelligence and altruism.
THREATS TO ASIAN GIANTS
Declared endangered by IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the population of Asian giants have reduced by 50% over the past 75 years and it is estimated that 20,000-40,000 are only left.
Asia, one of the populous continents on earth where development and economic growth is the main concern, is facing a great danger when it comes to its wildlife. The humans are not sparing animals or their homes for the sake of their own benefit and money. The main threat to elephants is the loss of habitat and fragmentation from deforestation, agricultural development and various other human activities.
WHY THEY MATTER ?
The large giants are important in this vast continent because they maintain the integrity of forests and grassland habitats. Their large size helps in the creation of pathways along which they travel and thus creates access to other wildlife.
HUMAN – ELEPHANT CONFLICT
The decades have seen the ongoing conflict between the humans and the largest land mammals in the world. Humans poach elephants for ivory of male elephants. Illegal ivory market exists for which around 30,000 elephants are poached each year mainly in Africa. The ivory is used for making jewelry and various types of useful medicines.
In Asia, the giants are trafficked from Myanmar into Thailand. The trunk of elephants with finger like structure at the end (one in Asian elephants and two in African) is also used in many things and is another reason for the poaching and hunting of elephants.
Asian elephants live in captivity. Phajaan, a ritual in which the elephants are tied from the ropes and are tamed using fear-based method with an instrument known as bullhook (a wooden stick with a sharp metal hook at the end) is widely practiced in the Asian subcontinent. The elephant from the young age is tied from the rope and is manipulated in such a way that he couldn’t open the rope. When he grows his mind already accepts the fact that he couldn’t open the rope and hence he obeys his master’s orders.
Elephants living outside protected areas are prone to danger because of the expanding human settlements, plantations, farming, mining (road, railways). With shrinking forests and unavailability of food, elephants march towards crop land from forest land and then they indulge in what is called crop raiding, which brings them in direct conflict with the humans, often resulting in deaths of both the man the elephant. In a fraction of second, the large giants become ‘nuisance’ from ‘deities.’
The present Kerala case where a pregnant elephant died due to consuming a pineapple which was full of crackers is an example of how human beings are cruel to the innocent beings.
Logging industry, agriculture and occasionally in warfare, Asian elephants are used. In tourism, the elephants are trained to perform shows, rides and interact closely and friendly with tourists.
India, Vietnam and Myanmar have banned capture in order to conserve their wild herds. But illegal capture still exists. (CITES) – 1989, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna has banned the international trade in ivory, skin, tail hair and meat.
Preservation, Restoration and Expansion of Wildlife Corridors In India.
The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) selects 27 global projects to receive the conservation and research grants to show the dedication to conserve the African and Asian Elephants worldwide. The various government initiatives like Project Tiger, Project Elephant, and Project Crocodile Conservation are all aiming at the same target, ‘to save wildlife.’
Asia’s largest vertebrate require living space, food and water, thus they have to be protected. Maintaining elephant corridors is therefore of crucial importance.
As per the study released in 2017 by Wildlife Trust of India in their report ‘Right of Passage,’ traces that there are 101 elephant corridors pan India. Out of these 101 corridors, 28 are located in the Southern region of India, 25 in Central region of India, 23 in Northeastern region of India, 14 in Northern West Bengal and 11 in Northwestern India.
Every two in three elephant corridors in the country are affected by agricultural activities. A large extent of corridor area is also being lost due to encroachment. About 58.4% corridors fall under settled cultivation and 10.9% under jhum (slash and burn) cultivation.
Conservation is therefore an achievement only if locals are also involved in the process.
Today as our world is changing both physically and technologically, it is very important to take a moment to reflect and reinvent our relationship with the existing elephants.
We have to work to save this species and STAE is also demanding special ‘corridors’ for their survival. If we together work and care, the giant species will survive and hence our biodiversity.
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Author: Anjali Lavania
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