Big issue

Big issue

There are few other animals in India that have as important a place in our culture, tradition and imagination as the elephant. In roles as varied as a god, a draught animal, combat force, entertainer, wild animal and objects of admiration, they have dominated our lives and minds for ages. But familiarity has bred neglect and elephants have received a raw deal. They should actually receive the kind of attention and protection that tigers and lions get. There are only 26,000, including 3,500 captive animals kept in temples and zoos, left in the country where lakhs of them once flourished. It is appropriate therefore that they have been declared a part of the national heritage. A National Elephant Conservation Authority is being set up and an allocation of Rs 600 crore is being made for the conservation efforts. The decisions are based on the recommendations of a task force set up by the environment ministry.

The habitats of elephants have been shrinking because of human encroachment and deforestation and forest degradation. More elephant reserves will be set up and they will be declared ecologically sensitive regions. Development activities that affect them will be curbed and efforts will be made to relocate local populations from these areas. The loss of living space has led to the straying of elephants into human habitats, resulting in man-animal conflict, loss of crops, property and lives. Many die, knocked down by vehicles on roads or by trains on tracks, as it happened in West Bengal on Thursday. Poaching for tusks is a major threat. It is estimated that 100 elephants were killed by poachers last year. The seriousness of the problem can be seen from the gender ratio of elephants. Only males are killed by poachers and therefore there is only one male for 100 females in some areas. Ill-treatment of captive animals is rampant. The situation is better now because rules have been framed for their better upkeep and efforts are made to enforce them.

Tradition sanctions the use of elephants in religious processions and in other celebrations. It should be seriously considered whether they are really needed for such occasions. The sight of an elephant evokes wonderment and joy even in those who have seen hundreds of them. We should give it the environment that it needs to survive and it calls for special attention because of its place in history and the national psyche.

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