View from India: Elephants are essential for ecological balance
Image credit: Javarman/Dreamstime
India’s elephants are under threat. Dedicated corridors must be set aside for their protection.
Uttarakhand, located at the foothills of the Himalayas, has been in the news recently for its elephant corridor. The Uttarakhand High Court has directed the Central Government to consider giving the corridor the status of an eco-sensitive zone, under the Environment Protection Act. This corridor is in the Jim Corbett National Park, so it’s only befitting for the court to state that construction of hotels, resorts or restaurants should not be permitted in the vicinity. Any form of encroachment or obstruction would probably force the animals to scout for other passages that lead to the nearby Kosi River. Both central and state governments have been directed to take conservation efforts towards elephant corridors as well as monitor the traffic at night.
The state of Uttarakhand is no exception; there have been similar situations in many parts of the country. That’s how the government stepped in to save the elephants. From time to time various initiatives have been launched towards elephant conservation as their numbers began to dwindle. The Government of India under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) began an initiative titled Project Elephant in 1992. This centrally sponsored scheme protects pachyderms and extends to states having free-ranging wild elephants to ensure their survival in the wild, protect their habitat and elephant corridors. MoEFCC provides financial and technical support to major elephant range states in the country through the project.
Such effort indicate the felt need to save elephants, and for a number of reasons. Majestic and intelligent, elephants help other animals. By way of explanation, elephants move around dense forests. Their pathways pave the way for other animals to follow suit, and allow sunlight to percolate to low-lying plants. Elephants dig holes during hot summers to access water. After they quench themselves, the remaining water is consumed by other animals. This floppy-eared gentle long-trunk animal helps the ecology as well. Though the largest terrestrial mammal, elephants are herbivorous. The vegetation that they live on includes seeds. The seed droppings from their digestive tract can spread over several kilometres and help in the germination of trees.
Generally patches of land that connect two large habitats become elephant corridors. These specific corridors help elephants move freely. It is their natural habitat and a place where they are free from intervention, be it human or any sort of construction work. This corridor is their migratory route that could link them to forests. Elephant corridors require maintenance and protection. In 2005, the Wildlife Trust of India and Asian Nature Conservation Foundation in collaboration with State Forest Departments, Project Elephant and researchers identified 88 elephant corridors. All this has been detailed in a Conservation Reference Series report titled ‘Right of Passage: Elephant Corridors of India.’ Work towards the betterment of these corridors has happened with concerted efforts from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (Government of India) State Forest Departments and conservation organisations. WTI, along with elephant experts and conservationists executed the second edition of the publication, and notified that there are 101 elephant corridors.
Elephant corridors alone won’t suffice. Vast expanses of land are required for their movement in order to prevent elephant-human conflicts. The country is home to 31 elephant reserves (ER) as notified by the Government of India. These are spread over 10 elephant landscapes. Till date, the greatest numbers of reserves are in Assam and Odisha, with five in each state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that the country is home to around 60 per cent of Asian elephants and the country is committed towards elephant conservation and preservation. He recently announced that the 32rd reserve will be in Tamil Nadu. A protected area of 1,197 sq km in Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli will be home to the upcoming Agasthiyamalai Elephant Reserve. This will bring the total area under ERs to about 76,508 sq km across 14 states.
Elephants dying in rail accidents is a grim truth. In the case of Tamil Nadu, the tracks between Madukkarai and Walayar in Coimbatore district are known for such tragedies. The Ministry of Railways and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department are in the process of installing artificial intelligence (AI) systems to send out alerts when elephants cross the railway tracks. It is also intended to track and record the sound of elephants through acoustics. A hooter would be used as an alert. A sum of 70 million rupees has been allocated by the Tamil Nadu government towards this proposed strategy.
While technology needs to be leveraged for preventing elephant deaths, already elephants are being tracked in real time through technology. They are monitored through satellite collars equipped with Global Positioning Systems (GPS). The GPS readings throw light on the elephant’s movements. Repeated readings can help establish a pattern in the movement. Aerial surveillance drones and concealed camera traps are other means of monitoring elephants. This may help in sensing human-elephant conflicts or even poaching activities.
The Indian elephant (Elephas maximus) inhabit central and southern Western Ghats, North East India, eastern India and northern India and in parts of southern peninsular India. Hope they are protected, their community grows and the trumpet gets louder.
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