Saturday, September 4, 2010

Protecting The Elephant:A Mammoth Issue

The Indian Government decided to declare the elephant to be a National Heritage Animal. Following this, a lot of  developmental plans are in store for elephant conservation. Jairam Ramesh, Union Environment and Forest Minister said,
"We will soon declare the elephant as a national heritage animal, as it has been part of our heritage since ages. We need to give the same degree of importance to elephants, as it is given to tigers in order to protect the big animal" ( DNA India)
India has the largest number of Asian elephants. The central problems involving elephants here include the problem of their habitat loss, illegal killing (and even elephants killing humans) and intolerable conditions suffered by domesticated elephants. Most of these problems are arising out of the human-elephant conflict.

I feel that the key issues that require immediate addressing are poaching for ivory and habitat loss. Many elephants are mercilessly killed every year as their body parts especially tusks are very valuable in the market.
The second grave issue is their habitat loss. It leads to a host of other problems. Their habitats are being destroyed  because of expanding human population and clearing forest lands to construct buildings. Elephants are then forced to encroach upon human territories. As a consequence of that, humans get killed, their crops are destroyed and chaos is created in the villages.Likewise, elephants also face danger. A freely roaming wild elephant in a village, may easily be perceived as a sign of threat by the villagers who may just shoot it for protection.
Habitat loss thus spells disastrous consequences for both humans and elephants.

Today, elephants are an endangered species in India. Hence, the Government's decision is a welcome step. However, prior to this, India was already known to have some of the strictest elephant legislation in Asia (example Project Elephant). Yes, good results were achieved out of it. But the goal hasn't  been attained.Many plans could not be successfully implemented due to corruption and inefficiency.
Secondly, it is great to think of the elephant as a National Heritage Animal. But the follow up action is essential. The tiger has long been a National Heritage Animal, but what's the use if we simultaneously see ad flashes of "ONLY 1411 TIGERS LEFT" by Aircel? Would this be the destined fate of elephants too?

So legislation and honourary 'titles' should be aimed at targetting the root cause of elephant problems and doing something about them. And not just because they look impressive on paper.

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