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World Elephant Day – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • August 18, 2020
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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World Elephant Day

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TOPIC: General Studies 3

  • Wildlife Conservation

In News: 

  • More than 500 people and 100 elephants die every year due to conflict with each other. As per the last census conducted in 2017, India is home to 30,000 elephants. 
  • A new report released on the occasion of World Elephant Day suggested that over 200 elephants in India are kept in “severely inadequate conditions”. 
  • According to the report, India is home to the second highest number of elephants used in tourism in Asia; and of the 21 venues housing 509 elephants, the report found that 45 per cent (225) of the elephants were kept in severely inadequate conditions.
  • According to the report, whether taken from the wild or bred in captivity, ‘all elephants used for close tourist contact such as bathing have undergone a traumatic training method known as the crush’. ‘This involves separating young elephant calves from their mother, keeping them in isolation, depriving them of food and water, and in many cases beating them repeatedly until they are broken and can be controlled by fear.’

Elephant conservation is vital as it balances the ecosystem. Elephants have to be kept in forests for which fodder and water augmentation programme has been initiated.

The Indian elephant

  • One of three extant recognised subspecies of the Asian elephant and native to mainland Asia
  • Listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List 
  • The wild population has declined by at least 50% since the 1930s
  • Threatened by loss, degradation and fragmentation of its habitat

Elephant is an endangered species included in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The animals included in Schedule 1 need high level of protection. The Schedule provides for the certificate of ownership and makes it mandatory for the elephant owners to provide adequate facilities for the housing, maintenance and upkeep of captive elephants.

About Project Elephant

  • It is a flagship programme of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)
  • Launched in 1992 it is a Centrally-sponsored scheme
  • Primarily aimed at protecting elephant, their habitats and corridors
  • It addresses issues of man-animal conflict and welfare of domesticated elephants.

Main Causes behind current elephant deaths

  • Electrocution
  • Train accidents
  • Poaching
  • Poisoning

Weak regulation of ecotourism is severely impacting important habitats, and affecting animals that have large home ranges, like elephants. Fragmentation of forests makes it all the more important to preserve migratory corridors. The movement of elephants is essential to ensure that their populations are genetically viable, and help regenerate forests on which other species, including tigers, depend.

Ending human interference in the pathways of elephants is a conservation imperative, more so because the animals are then not forced to seek alternative routes that bring them into conflict with people. Forests that have turned into farms and unbridled tourism are blocking their paths, resulting in growing incidents of elephant-human conflict.

Reasons for man-animal conflict:

  • Lost ranges and blocked corridors for elephants have made lelephants look for soft landscapes adjoining forests such as coffee, tea and cardamom estates, and in the absence of these, wander into food-rich farms falling in their movement pathways. 
  • Expansion of human settlements into forests – expansion of cities, industrial areas, railway/road infrastructure, tourism etc.
  • Commercial pressures eat into already diminished habitat.
  • Allowing livestock to graze in forest areas
  • Land use transformations such as change from protected forest patches to agricultural and horticultural lands and monoculture plantations are further destroying the habitats of wildlife.
  • Unscientific structures and practices of forest management in the country
  • Infestation of wildlife habitat by invasive exotic weeds leads to decreased availability of edible grasses for wild herbivores
  • Decreased prey base caused by poaching of herbivores has also resulted in carnivores moving out of forests in search of prey and to indulge in cattle lifting.

The Solution

India’s culture of tolerance must be supplemented by innovative, evidence-driven, socially-just institutions that govern the human-wildlife interface. For this, the Indian government and civil society need relevant and timely data. 

First, we need to better understand the core ecological variables

  • How many elephants are there, and how are they distributed? Do the forests that the elephants live in have enough palatable vegetation, or has it been replaced by invasive weeds and inedible plantation trees like teak? 
  • In northeast India, we don’t even know all the places elephants go, inhibiting the protection of their habitat and lives. Such vital data could empower conservationists to pursue forest regeneration, grassland restoration, and corridor protection necessary to support large populations of elephants.

Second, data on human-elephant conflicts

  • Currently, data on crop-raiding by elephants, elephant deaths, and human deaths due to conflict are buried in paper files scattered across the country, preventing timely analyses. If state governments develop electronic databases on human-elephant conflict, the government and civil society can target interventions to places where elephants are troubling communities. 
  • We can strategically choose where to help farmers replace lethal electric fences with effective non-lethal barriers, deploy awareness programmes to minimise accidental encounters, and strengthen the administration of fair compensation programmes.
  • The building of such evidence-driven institutions to protect elephants requires funding. While NGOs could use help from the private sector, the government must also step up. The National Tiger Conservation Authority receives approximately Rs. 350 crore a year — Project Elephant receives less than 10 per cent of that.

Third, consider further disincentivising cruelty towards animals

  • Currently, the wildlife laws guiding sentencing for illegal hunting do not consider whether the animal suffered a slow and painful death. India’s conservation laws are geared to protect species, not prevent animal cruelty.
  • Accepting that the people will continue to kill wild animals, perhaps our laws should regard cruel acts more harshly than, say, defending crops with a gun when there is no alternative. 

Also,

  • Inclusion of local community in forest wildlife management
  • To ensure that money which comes in through tourism (of Tiger reserves) should be used for the development of the local villages as has been done in Tadoba tiger reserve, Maharashtra
  • Ensuring that elephant corridors are not razed/neglected due to overzealous developmental approach
  • Radio tagging of elephants can help identify danger spots and also avoid man-animal conflict
  • Ban on illegal electrical fencing with proper guidelines for maintaining the height of high tension electrical wires – cabling of power lines should be mandatory
  • A proper zone-wise management plan for different elephant landscapes — where to allow elephants and where to restrict their movement
  • Effort should be to expand elephant corridors, using the successful models within the country, including acquisition of lands using private funds and their transfer to the government.

Human-wildlife conflict is not linear, and can have unforeseen ripple effects on biodiversity and the forest ecosystem

Note:

World Elephant Day: 12th August

Elephant corridors are strips of land connecting two large habitats, which are supposed to provide a safe corridor for elephants to migrate from one landscape to another. In India, there are 101 elephant corridors.

Elephant Information Network (EIN)

  • Has enabled human-elephant coexistence in southern India
  • Acts as an early warning mechanism to alert people when elephants are nearby, minimizing negative human-elephant interactions, and increasing people’s tolerance towards elephants.
  • By Mr. Ananda Kumar

Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Programme – Mandated by COP resolution of CITES, MIKE program started in South Asia in the year 2003 with following purpose –

  • To provide information needed for elephant range States to make appropriate management and enforcement decisions
  • To build institutional capacity within the range States for the long-term management of their elephant populations
  • The main objectives of the MIKE are
    • To measure levels and trends in the illegal hunting of elephants;
    • To determine changes in these trends over time; and
    • To determine the factors causing or associated with such 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

Karnataka has the highest number of elephants (6,049), followed by Assam (5,719) and Kerala (3,054)

  • Karnataka, which has the largest elephant population in the country, captures and confines elephants in conflict with humans
  • Called Kumki elephants, they are tamed and trained in forest camps, and are now in demand in other States, for patrolling duties in forest reserves
  • Their ‘export’ also helps Karnataka, reducing the burden on its camps.
  • How: The state has a tradition of training wild pachyderms: folklore has it that the Jenu Kuruba tribes excelled at it, supplying elephants to the Chola and Pallava kings. Tipu Sultan institutionalised the practice three centuries ago.
  • They have been exported to the following parks –
    • Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh
    • Jharkhand’s Palamu Tiger Reserve
    • Uttarakhand: Corbett Tiger Reserve + Rajaji Tiger Reserve + Nandhaur Wildlife Sanctuary

Asian Elephant Alliance

  • Asian Elephant Alliance to secure 96 out of the 101 existing corridors used by elephants across 12 States in India.
  • The joint venture is aiming at raising £20 million (₹187.16 crore) to secure the 96 remaining elephant corridors, old and new, in the next ten years.

About the Alliance

  • Asian Elephant Alliance, an umbrella of five NGOs, was launched to reverse crisis facing elephants.
  • The initiative aims to stem the crisis facing the world’s remaining Asian elephants – thought to number only 35,000 – 45,000.

Habitat loss, along with ivory poaching, has devastated the population of wild Asian elephants, a distinct species from their African cousins. Survival for these few remaining elephants requires urgent action.

Therefore, a new coalition – the Asian Elephant Alliance – has been formed to tackle the crisis. The member organisations are Elephant Family, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), IUCN Netherlands, Wildlife Trust of India and World Land Trust.

Connecting the Dots:

  1. What are ‘elephant corridors’? Why are they important? Examine.

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