India, home to 60 per cent of the Asia's wild elephants, began its World Elephant Day celebrations on a sombre note on Saturday. Just a day before, forest officials in Jharkhand were forced to kill a rogue elephant which had killed 15 people. Ironically, the state animal for Jharkhand is the elephant.
The incident was symbolic of the increasing human-animal conflict in the country, where space for wildlife is rapidly decreasing. Even as elephants have been domesticated, ever so often, an elephant gets aggressive, and if wild, separated from the herd. With human settlements so close to elephant corridors, it is quite regular in India for rogue elephants to attack humans.
Despite the elephant being an everyday symbol in India since millennia—it was depicted on Indus Valley seals way back in BC 2500, and the elephant-headed god Ganesha's ten day birth celebrations are just around the corner—the population of elephants is declining.
From around 30,000 in 2012 to 27,000 now, the drop has been recorded by the all India elephant census of 2017, the detailed report of which will be released later. Environment ministry officials claim that the drop in numbers may not be alarming, they might only be reflecting the population more accurately, because this time, more sophisticated methods have been used for the count. These methods include direct counting as well as indirect count (dung count, waterhole and salt lick observations.) While a nationwide elephant census is done every five years, this time, the government has also mapped elephant distribution in India.
Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Harsh Vardhan launched ‘Gaj Yatra’ on the occasion of World Elephant Day. This is a nationwide campaign to protect elephants and will cover 12 states across which the elephant has a range. The minister also released two other documents: Agreed Points of Action on Trans-Boundary Conservation of Elephants by India and Bangladesh and Right of Passage, on elephant corridors in India. A compilation, ‘Glimpses of Initiatives Taken for Elephant Conservation in India (2012-2017), based on parliamentary questions was also released. Actor and model Dia Mirza has been appointed brand ambassador for 'Gaj Yatra'. This campaign will also rope in traditional artists and craftsmen to work on popularising the elephant in art form.
World Elephant Day, an annual global event celebrated on August 12, was conceived by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark and secretary-general of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation of Thailand, Sivaporn Dardarananda. India has had its own Project Elephant for conservation of the tuskers since 1992. African elephants are listed as “vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “endangered” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List book of threatened species.