Keep elephant corridors open and allow India’s national heritage animal to survive, it’ll help the whole ecosystem
India has for thousands of years revered and worshipped all natural resources, flora and fauna. And the elephant has a special place in Indian mythology.
We now live in an India that has 17% of the world’s population while occupying 2.61% of the world’s landmass, which we also share with 60% of the world’s Asian elephants, 65% of the world’s tigers, 100% of Asiatic lions and 85% of the world’s one horned rhino.
While all this is incredible, it’s also the reason why we’re fast losing natural habitat, disconnecting once uninterrupted forests, obstructing natural migratory routes of key species and disturbing an ecological balance that is key to our wellbeing. If we hope to have free flowing rivers, forests sequestering carbon and less severe impacts of climate change, we have to find a way to secure, protect and keep our forests connected.
The elephant is a perpetual nomad. Being a very large and herbivorous animal it needs vast areas to roam: constantly browsing, foraging, moving from place to place in search of food and water with the changing seasons. Elephants in India are primarily threatened because of habitat loss, shrinkage and degradation. The growing infrastructural and agricultural needs of India’s burgeoning human population have led to increasing encroachment within and around elephant habitats, resulting in the fragmentation of wild habitats and a loss of the traditional movement paths of elephants.
This has forced elephants to move through human-use areas, contributing to increased human-elephant conflict, which often leads to loss of human and elephant lives. There are an estimated 30,000 wild elephants in India (MoEFCC, 2012). This accounts for around 60% of the global population of Asian elephants, which has declined by about half in just the last 60-odd years.
So how can we help India’s elephants? By becoming aware of and spreading awareness about the importance of elephant corridors. These are traditional migratory paths that elephant herds have used for centuries, their location passed down from generation to generation. Today, as forest lands continue to be lost, they are crucial natural habitat linkages between protected forests that allow elephants to move between these areas freely, uninterrupted, giving them access to food and water… and other elephants!
Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), the government’s Project Elephant and other NGOs have mapped 101 elephant corridors across the country. Protecting and securing these is of critical importance. Not too many people know about elephant corridors though, which is why WTI and its partner NGO the International Fund for Animal Welfare are organising the Gaj Yatra, an awareness campaign to celebrate elephants and highlight the necessity of securing elephant corridors.
The Gaj Yatra begins today, World Elephant Day 2017, in New Delhi but will continue over the next 15 months. It’s the biggest event ever around India’s wild elephants. There’ll be a roadshow rolling through 12 states, with elephant sized artworks created by local artists and craftsmen as the centrepiece. There’ll also be Gaj Mahotsavs at different venues, with elephant sized fun to be had: concerts and parades and street plays; sculpture making and wall painting for kids.
Why should we care what happens to elephants? Well, because elephants are a keystone species. Their nomadic behaviour – the daily and seasonal migrations they make through their home ranges – is immensely important to the environment.
They are landscape architects, creating clearings in the forest, preventing overgrowth of certain plant species and allowing space for the regeneration of others, which in turn provide sustenance to other herbivorous animals. Elephants eat plants, fruits and seeds, releasing the seeds when they defecate in other places as they travel, benefiting biodiversity.
Elephant dung provides nourishment to plants and animals and acts as a breeding ground for insects. In times of drought they access water by digging holes, which benefits other wildlife. Further, their large footprints collect water when it rains, benefitting smaller creatures.
To have elephants in isolated populations, unable to move freely through their home ranges, would therefore have a devastating effect on India’s natural heritage. Many animal species would suffer and the ecosystem balance of several wild habitats would be unalterably upset.
It would also, of course, eventually lead to the local extinction of India’s national heritage animal, one of the wisest and most beloved species on the planet. So come, #JoinOurHerd and help us secure #101Corridors, give our elephants #RightOfPassage!
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.