New Delhi, May 24, 2011: Reaching out to the people, to improve conservation and welfare prospects of the elephant – India’s National Heritage Animal, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has launched the nationwide “Haathi Mere Saathi” campaign.
“Elephants are so ingrained in Indian culture and traditions, that sometimes, we tend to take the elephant for granted. This public initiative is aimed at increasing awareness among people and developing not just friendship but also companionship between people and elephants,” said Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests, at the Elephant – 8 Ministerial Meet held in the Indian capital today, unveiling the Campaign mascot, logo and website (www.haathimeresaathi.org).
“Unlike the tiger, which faces threat of extinction, the elephant faces threats of attrition. The elephant numbers have not increased or decreased drastically, but there is increasing pressure on the elephant habitats and it is a serious concern that we will try and address by involving people in elephant conservation and welfare through this campaign,” he added.
Recommended by the Elephant Task Force (ETF) constituted by the Ministry last year, the Campaign to ‘take Gajah (the elephant) to Prajah (the people)’ aims to spread awareness and encourage people’s participation in elephant conservation and welfare.
“Elephants have for ages been a significant icon in Indian culture and traditions and a flagship for Indian forests. However, today, threats to the pachyderms in the wild; and there are welfare concerns for captive elephants. The country’s National Heritage Animal needs its people and the idea behind the Campaign is to mobilise this support. Elephant Family, a UK based charity that supports Asian elephant conservation initiatives has pledged support to the campaign,” said Vivek Menon, Executive Director-WTI and a member of the ETF.
The Asian elephant is threatened by habitat degradation, conflicts and poaching for ivory. These threats are more intense in India which harbours more than 50% of the world’s Asian elephants, but also struggles to balance its aspirations for development, and people’s welfare, as it strives to secure its natural heritage.
“India has about 25,000 elephants in the wild. Despite this seemingly large number, the elephant, particularly the tuskers, in India is as threatened as the tiger. There are just about 1200 tuskers left in the country. Moreover, elephants being large-bodied have much larger range and resource requirements; destruction of their habitat can have drastic effects on this species, and these cannot be addressed without the people’s participation,” stressed Jagdish Kishwan, Additional Director General (Wildlife), Government of India.
For effective conservation and welfare measures, the Campaign is strategised to evoke companionship with the animal, highlighting the strong cultural, religious and social association of elephants as well as their ecological values.
The Campaign focuses on various target audience groups including locals near elephant habitats, youth, policy makers, among others. It envisions setting up of Gajah centres in elephant landscapes across the country 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 pachyderms.