Elephants are the largest nomadic mammals of India. Technically known as the Asian Elephants, they are, like many other keystone species, facing threats to their survival. International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) has been drawing attention for decades towards enhanced efforts for conserving the intelligent and social animal. India is particularly expected to take some extra measures to save elephants.
Having said that, there is a good news to share now.
As per the most scientific census done so far of the Asian Elephants ( Elephas maximums ), the figure stands at 27,312. India's celebrated elephant expert, Dr R Sukumar released the figures in Delhi recently and said he was happy that with a new approach to census, the figures across four geographic zones of the country showed a trend of stable population. He said a large number of elephants were in private possession for religious and other purposes and they were not included in the latest census of 2017. Close to 30,000 elephants are estaimated to be present in India, almost the same number of the last census of 2012.
Just like the Project Tiger of 1973, Project Elephant was also launched by Government of India in 1992 and a special task force was formed by the MoEFF in 2010. On the basis of the report' Gajah', elephant was declared the 'national heritage animal'. But not much was done by the GoI to implement the suggestions made by the Mahesh Rangarajan-headed Task Force, well after seven years.
Karnataka is one state which is sincerely protecting its natural treasure and bio diversity. For, it also has among the highest numbers of tigers and now the southern Indian state has topped the chart having 6,049 elephants, the largest mammals in the wild, clearly proving that the conservation measures are well in place in the state. It is a long held theory that where there lives a tiger, the ecosystem is considered healthy, as tiger sits at the apex of the food chain.
The N-E region of India shows presence of 10,139 tuskers; the Northern region with Uttarakhand, UP have 2,085; the East-central region consisting Odisha, CG, Jharkhand and Maharashtra record 3,128 jumbos. Southern region with Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu etc has left all other regions way behind with 11,960 number of pachyderms in their forests. Interestingly Maharashtra has just 06 elephants and states like MP and Telangana have none in their forests which may surprise the laymen.
Elephants are considered as demi-gods by a large number of Indian. Curiously enough, there was a chief minister who refused to sit atop an elephant in a national park, saying it was like a 'Ganesha' for her and she could not ride the animal.
However, elephants continue to be a threatened species despite these 'encouraging numbers ' of the latest census. World's 60% per cent population of these species live in India and hence hopes of their survival here are more, provided government, experts and people work in unison.
Reasons of the threats are many: due to fragmented forests, they are increasingly entering the agriculture fields and cities, leading to conflict with human beings, Wildlife Trust of India's executive director and India's top elephant specialist Vivek Menon says. He said that protecting forests corridors and elephants passages and safeguarding them from speeding trains was a must to keep the population stable and protected. ``If we save forests, elephants will help them grow more for human beings to breathe clean air and have ample water", Menon, who has written extensively on elephants, believes.
Elephants losing life in accidents by train while crossing the railways lines in many parts of the country, remain the challenge before conservationists. Prerna Bindra, an author on wildlife issues, has in her recent book 'The Vanishing' has drawn attention towards such incidences of brutal killing of lovely animal herds on the railway lines. Railways have been appealed from time to time to slow down trains on the elephants paths in states like Kerala, North Bengal (Siliguri) and other places where tragic killings have taken place disturbing the elephants lovers all over. But effectively there has not been much change.
But as I said in the beginning of the article, around the biggest Hindu festival of Lord Ganesha, this is definitely a good news that India has close to 30000 elephants. Let's resolve to save them.
[ The author is a wildlife writer and member of MP State Wildlife Board ]