Reaching out to the people, to improve conservation and welfare prospects of the elephant - India’s National Heritage Animal, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has launched the nationwide Haathi Mere Saathi campaign.
Addressing at the Elephant-8 Ministerial Meeting today in New Delhi, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests (I/C), Shri Jairam Ramesh said that Elephants are so ingrained in Indian culture and traditions, that sometimes, we tend to take the elephant for granted. He said, this public initiative is aimed at increasing awareness among people and developing not just friendship but also companionship between people and elephants. The Minister unveiled the Campaign mascot, logo and website (www.haathimeresaathi.org) on the occasion.
Shri Ramesh said, unlike the tiger, which faces threat of extinction, the elephant faces threats of attrition. The elephant numbers have not increased or decreased drastically, but there is increasing pressure on the elephant habitats and it is a serious concern that we will try and address by involving people in elephant conservation and welfare through this campaign, he added.
The Minister said that one of the recommendations of the Elephant Task Force last year was for India to take a lead in global elephant conservation. This has now become a reality at this E-8 Meet. “The delegates present here represent two-third of the world’s wild elephant population. Later in 2013 we will bring in all the 50 elephant range countries together to deliberate and actively cooperate for elephant conservation and welfare,” the Minister added.
Representing regions with all three species of elephants, the participants included policy makers, conservationists, scientists, historians, art and culture experts among others from India, Botswana, Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand. Discussions covered a wide range of issues categorised under three basic themes Science and Conservation, Management and Conservation, and Cultural and Ethical perspectives of conservation.
Recommended by the Elephant Task Force (ETF) constituted by the Ministry last year, the Campaign to ‘take Gajah (the elephant) to Prajah (the people)’ aims to spread awareness and encourage people’s participation in elephant conservation and welfare.
The Executive Director-WTI and a member of the ETF, Shri Vivek Menon said that Elephants have for ages been a significant icon in Indian culture and traditions and a flagship for Indian forests. However, today, threats to the pachyderms in the wild; and there are welfare concerns for captive elephants. The country’s National Heritage Animal needs its people and the idea behind the Campaign is to mobilise this support.
The Asian elephant is threatened by habitat degradation, conflicts and poaching for ivory. These threats are more intense in India which harbours more than 50% of the world’s Asian elephants, but also struggles to balance its aspirations for development, and people’s welfare, as it strives to secure its natural heritage.
The Additional Director General (Wildlife), Government of India, Shri Jagdish Kishwan said that India has about 25,000 elephants in the wild. Despite this seemingly large number, the elephant, particularly the tuskers, in India is as threatened as the tiger. There are just about 1200 tuskers left in the country. Moreover, elephants being large-bodied have much larger range and resource requirements; destruction of their habitat can have drastic effects on this species, and these cannot be addressed without the people’s participation.
For effective conservation and welfare measures, the Campaign is strategised to evoke companionship with the animal, highlighting the strong cultural, religious and social association of elephants as well as their ecological values.
The Campaign focuses on various target audience groups including locals near elephant habitats, youth, policy makers, among others. It envisions setting up of Gajah centres in elephant landscapes across the country to spread awareness on their plight and invoke people’s participation in addressing the threats to them. It also plans to build capacity of protection and law enforcement agencies at the ground level, and advocate for policies favouring the pachyderms.