Rare good news for the Indian elephant

You could be forgiven for thinking that we conservationists live in a world of doom and gloom.  I mean seriously, one species going extinct after another, the list growing and growing… more habitat being destroyed – and it’s been going on for YEARS!  It’s a wonder people in my trade aren’t wearing straight jackets by my age…  I’m sure that people are getting sick to death of hearing about how terrible things are, and yet, every day the news is full of environmental disasters.  So how do you keep any perspective on this stuff?  If you really let yourself get carried away with the problems, you’ll probably want to give up, especially if you think of a place like India with its massive growing human population and deteriorating habitats for wildlife.  What chance do animals really have with so many people taking over the last vestiges of their forest habitats?

The truth is, these problems are surmountable.  With the right people power, grunt and resources behind them, things can be turned around for species like tigers, elephants and rhinos.   But I have to be honest, sometimes even I need someone to remind me of that.  Last time I saw Vivek Menon, head of the Wildlife Trust of India, I was really surprised at how optimistic he was for the future of the elephant in India.  But Vivek, I pointed out, what about the habitat loss, the people pressure….?  How can any elephant live in that world?  He just laughed at me, as if clutching a little secret to his chest, confident that the Indian elephant would be just fine.  “It’s not a population issue, Tammie,” he told me, “It’s a space issue.”  He referred me to a paper he’d developed outlining all the potential elephant corridor habitats in India that would allow them to move across larger areas safely, kind of like the African peace parks (you can read this report on the Wildlife Trust of India’s website).  Anyway, I still had my doubts, I’ll admit, and I wasn’t really prepared to accept that everything would be okay, just like that…

But last week I realised that a huge step is about to be taken by the Indian government.  Vivek and several other esteemed conservationists in India are behind a report just released, entitled “Gajah – Securing the future for elephants in India”.  You can read it here.  In short, as Vivek is quoted in a media article “If implemented in full, these measures are more than enough to save the elephant” (read the full article here).  The Indian elephant is to be declared a National Heritage Animal by the Minister for Environment & Forests, putting it up there with tigers in terms of national status – but the big difference between elephants and tigers is that there are about 26,000 elephants in India and only a few thousand tigers, so we’ve got in with elephants before they hit the really dangerous low numbers of tigers.  This move by the Indian government should also mean that elephants will benefit from increased government funding to help conserve and protect the remaining habitat, including vital corridors that allow them to move safely between refuges.  And that – in theory – would help reduce human-elephant conflict, because the root cause of human-elephant conflict, which kills 400 people and 100 elephants in India every year – is the loss of elephant habitat.

So this is exciting news and certainly makes me understand why Vivek was optimistic about the future of elephants the last time I saw him.  Through Animal Works, we’ll continue to support the work of organisations like the Wildlife Trust of India and WWF in the north east state of Assam, a major conflict hotspot in India for elephants and people.  If you’d like to get involved, drop me an email or leave a comment here.  You can sponsor an elephant or buy milk for a baby elephant for a day, helping the elephant victims of human-elephant conflict.    Things are pretty tough if you’re an elephant in India – you face threats like poachers, low hanging power lines/electrocution, train hits and poisoning in retaliation for human deaths.  Let’s hope, with the current moves by the Indian government, that things are beginning to look up.

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