Elephant: The Majestic Animal Heritage of India

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Context: For the first time, Bandhavgarh Reserve forest located in Madhya Pradesh (MP), has a colony of elephants who migrated from Chhattisgarh in November 2018 and has stayed on. Bandhavgarh is a large reserve forest that has plenty of food and water which is the possible reason for this migration and stay.

Relevance:
Prelims: General issues on Environmental Ecology, Bio-diversity, and Climate Change.
Mains: GS III-

  • Science and technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.
  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Colony of elephants in M.P:

  • The ‘Tiger State’ of MP, which in the 2019 census recorded the most number of estimated tigers at 526, presently has no know-how of dealing with elephants.
  • There are no elephants in MP and there is no known reason for this disappearance from India’s central region, including MP and until a few years ago Chhattisgarh. A loss of habitat could have led to this problem.
  • But growing urbanisation and deforestation in other elephants residing areas, such as West Bengal and Jharkhand, could now be pushing the animals westwards (i.e, in MP).
  • In October 2019, the Union Ministry for Environment, Forests and Climate Change constituted a technical committee to develop a National Elephant Action Plan.
  • Although there is extensive forest cover, relying on elephants on crops makes human-elephant conflict inevitable.

Elephants:

  • There are three subspecies of Asian elephant – the Indian, Sumatran, and Sri Lankan.
  • The Indian has the widest range and accounts for the majority of the remaining elephants on the continent.
  • African elephants are listed as “vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “endangered” in IUCN Red List of threatened species.
  • The elephant has been accorded the highest possible protection under the Indian wildlife law through its listing under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • The government of India has launched various initiatives for the conservation of elephants. While India is home to 50% of the Asian Elephant population, and according to 2017 elephant census, there are 27,312 elephants in the country, marking a decrease of nearly 3,000 elephants from the 2012 census.

Project Elephant:

  • It is a centrally sponsored scheme.
  • Launched in 1992
  • Objectives:
    • To protect elephants, their habitat & corridors
    • To address issues of man-animal conflict
    • Welfare of captive elephants
    • It provides financial and technical support to major elephant bearing states in the country for protection of elephants, their habitats and corridors. It also seeks to address the issues of human-elephant conflict and the welfare of domesticated elephants.
  • Main activities of the Project are as follows:
    • Ecological restoration of existing natural habitats and migratory routes of elephants;
    • Development of scientific and planned management for conservation of elephant habitats and viable population of Wild Asiatic elephants in India;
    • Promotion of measures for mitigation of man-elephant conflict in crucial habitats and moderating pressures of human and domestic stock activities in crucial elephant habitats;
    • Strengthening of measures for protection of Wild elephants from poachers and unnatural causes of death;
    • Eco-development and Veterinary care.

Elephant census:

  • Elephant census is conducted once in 5 years under the aegis of Project elephant.
  • A scientist associated with the census is of the view that discrepancy had resulted from Kerala’s insistence in 2017 on using a technique called the ‘direct count’ method.
  • Elephant Counting Methods Employed in Census:
    • The direct counting method is based on sightings of elephants.
    • The indirect counting method uses the elephant elephant ‘dung decay’ formula, in which the analysis of dung is used to estimate the population of the elephant.

What are Elephant Corridors?

  • Elephant corridors are narrow strips of land that connect two large habitats of elephants. Elephant corridors are crucial to reduce animal fatalities due to accidents and other reasons. So fragmentation of forests makes it all the more important to preserve migratory corridors.
  • Stretch/narrow strips of forested land that connects larger habitats with elephant populations and forms a conduit for animal movement between the habitats.
  • This movement helps in enhancing the species survival and birth rate.
  • In India – 88 identified elephant corridors.
  • Of total only 70% used by elephants. 1/3rd – ecologically high priority and 2/3rd – medium priority.
  • Fragmentation of elephant habitat severity in following order –
    • Northern WB → NW India → NE India → central India
  • South India – least fragmented because 65% corridors in south are protected areas or in reserved forests.

Why protect elephant corridors?

  • The movement of elephants is essential to ensure that their populations are genetically viable. It also helps to regenerate forests on which other species, including tigers, depend.
  • Nearly 40% of elephant reserves are vulnerable, as they are not within protected parks and sanctuaries. Also, migration corridors have no specific legal protection.
  • Forests that have turned into farms and unchecked tourism are blocking animals’ paths. Animals are thus forced to seek alternative routes resulting in increased elephant-human conflict.
  • Weak regulation of ecotourism is severely impacting important habitats. It particularly affects animals that have large home ranges, like elephants.

Gaj Yatra:

  • Gaj Yatra’, a nationwide campaign to protect elephants, was launched on the occasion of World Elephant Day in 2017.
  • The campaign is planned to cover 12 elephant range states. The elephant is part of India’s animal heritage and the Government celebrates this day to spread awareness about the conservation of the species.
  • The 15 months campaign will be led by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). The campaign aims to create awareness about elephant corridors to encourage free movement in their habitat.

Threats to elephant corridors

  • Primary threat – Habitat loss.
  • Fragmentation and destruction of habitat due to developmental activities like construction of buildings, roads, railways, holiday resorts and the fixing solar energized electric fencing, etc.
  • “Single biggest threats” in central India – Coal mining and iron ore mining
  • Mineral-rich states Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also have the highest number of elephant corridors in the country, which makes them known for elephant-man conflicts.
  • Poaching for extremely valuable elephant ivory.
  • Non-accommodation of grazing grounds results in searching for food elsewhere which lead to them to crop fields and resulting in man-animal conflict.

Mitigation:

  • Fusion of the corridors with nearby protected areas wherever feasible.
  • In other cases, declaration as Ecologically Sensitive Areas or conservation reserves to grant protection.
  • Securing a corridor and Habitat restoration if needed.
  • Sensitizing local communities to the option of voluntarily relocation outside the conflict zones to safer areas.

Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Programme:

  • Project Elephant has been formally implementing MIKE (Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants) programme of CITES in 10 Elephant reserves since January 2004.
  • It is mandated by COP resolution of CITES.
  • It was started in South Asia in 2003 with the following purpose –
    • To measure levels and trends in illegal hunting of elephants.
    • To determine changes in these trends over time.
    • To determine the factors causing or associated with these changes and to try and assess in particular to what extent observed trends are a result of any decisions taken by the Conference of the Parties to CITES.
    • Data are collected from all sites on a monthly basis in specified MIKE patrol form and submitted to the Sub-Regional Support Office for South Asia Programme in Delhi who are assisting the Ministry in implementation of the programme.

Haathi mere Saathi:

  • The campaign which was launched by the Ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) in partnership with the wildlife trust of India (WTI).
  • Why launched?
    • To improve conservation and welfare prospects of the elephant –India’s National Heritage Animal.
    • Launched at – “Elephant- 8″ Ministerial meeting, Delhi in 2011.
    • E-8 countries are India, Botswana, Republic of Congo, Indonesia, Kenya, Sri Lanka,
    • Tanzania, and Thailand.
  • Aim –
    • Increasing awareness among people and developing friendship, companionship between people and elephants.

Elephant Bond:

  • An Elephant Bond is a 25-year sovereign bond (a bond issued by a national government).
  • This bond is issued to those people who declare their previously undisclosed income and are then bound to invest 50% of that amount in these securities.
  • The fund gathered by the issuance of these bonds is utilized to finance infrastructure projects only.

The campaign Mascot “Gaju”

  • Focuses on – target audience groups including locals near elephant habitats, youth, policymakers etc.
  • It envisions of setting up of Gajah (Elephant) centre 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 elephants.
  • Elephant task force (ETF) campaign to “Take Gajah (elephant) to the Prajah (people)” aims to spread awareness and encourage people’s participation in elephant conservation and welfare.

Elephant Task Force:

  • The increased tension due to rampant retaliatory killing of elephants and human-elephant conflict prompted the government to set up the Elephant Task Force along the lines of the Tiger Task Force.
  • The focus of the Elephant Task Force was to bring pragmatic solutions for the conservation of elephants in the long-term.

Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve:

  • In 1968, it was notified as a national park and in 1993 was declared a tiger reserve- under the Project Tiger Network at the neighbouring Panpatha Sanctuary.
  • Historical Significance:
    • Its mention can be found in the ancient books of the ‘Narad Pancharatra’ and the ‘Shiva Purana’ that this place is being associated with Ramayana.
    • The Bandhavgarh Fort is a great masterpiece of “Treta Yuga” (one of the ages of mankind in Hinduism).
    • It was ruled by major dynasties including Sengars, the Kalchuris, and the Baghels (believed to rule the regions for the longer period).
  • Geographical Aspect:
    • It resides on the extreme northeastern border of Madhya Pradesh and the northern edges of the Satpura mountain ranges.
  • Streams:
    • The whole park is filled with more than 20 streams out of which some of the most important streams are Johilla, Janadh, Charanganga, Damnar, Banbei, Ambanala and Andhiyari Jhiria. These streams then merge into the Son river (an important southern tributary to the river Ganga).
  • Species Found:
    • Asiatic Jackal, Bengal Fox, Sloth Bear, Striped Hyena, Leopard and Tiger, Wild Pigs, Nilgai, Chinkara and Gaur (a herbivore and the only coarse feeder).



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