Finally, elephant lovers of India have reasons to rejoice! In a recent announcement, Environment Minister Jayaram Ramesh has disclosed the happy news that the Center will be providing heritage animal status to elephants soon. This special recognition to the majestic and largest mammal on land is in fact long over due.
Despite tiger being India's national animal, elephants do enjoy a unique status in our heritage and cultural tradition. Tuskers constitute the crucial segment of our rich and diverse wildlife. Asian elephant outclasses its African cousin because of its majestic looks. Asian elephant bull grows upto 10 feet and weighs about 5 tons. Purely vegetarian, an adult elephant can devour 200 to 300 kg of fodder and drink upto 100 litres of water in a day.
Needless to say that apart from providing heritage status, stepped up efforts should be made to protect natural habitats and corridors of elephants. Latest figures indicate that India can boast of about 35,000 elephants in the wild. They are generally seen in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Orissa and the North Eastern states. As per last year's assessment, Kerala has 5,135 elephants in the wild. However, it is a matter of concern that even in Kerala having lush green forests elephant population is stagnant. The state has as many as 900 tamed captive elephants . The beauty of tuskers makes them an integral part of our cultural activities, especially festivals. In Kerala, elephants are widely used in temple festivals and other cultural activities.
Preserving habitats and elephant corridors should be the thrust area of safeguarding the big mammal in the wild. Poaching, human intrusion into the natural habitats of elephants for agricultural activities, tribal settlements in forest areas and railway lines are some of the main threats to elephant population in India. Human-elephant conflicts are becoming increasingly common leading to retaliatory killing of these animals. Despite ban on international trade in ivory, poaching continues to be the major threat.Across the country, captive elephants face cruel treatment from their mahouts or keepers.
Of course, the move to bestow heritage animal status will go a long way in protecting elephants both in the wild and captivity.
Ram Krishna Pillai, AIR Correspondent, Thiruvananthapuram