A Year of Hope
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
We’ve been inspired by all of the support we've received this year, and the difference its made in the lives of elephants! Let’s take a moment to look back on all we've accomplished together in 2019. We couldn't have done it without you.
Project Asian Elephants 101
In April, and with the support of the State Police Chief, Sri Loknath Behera, we partnered with the Kerala Police to engage Student Police Cadets (SPC) in a weeklong workshop to protect India's elephants. SPC was created to impart a sense of civic duty on high school students while helping them develop empathy for vulnerable sections of society, including nature and wildlife. The success of this program confirmed our belief that empowering young people is the only path forward for the survival of elephants!
Many of the students told us they had once loved to sit on elephants, but never knew the pain the elephants had to go through. The workshop included classroom sessions, group discussions, and a visit to Kerala’s Kottoor Elephant Rehabilitation Center. The students were concerned about the suffering and exploitation of elephants, and came up with their own grassroots solutions. In the end, the cadets were awarded “Elephant Ambassador” certificates, handed out by the State Police Chief, and we were asked to expand the program next year!
Temple Elephant Rehabilitation Program
This year, we reached an agreement with the Kerala Forest Department (KFD) to provide capacity-building programs to elephant handlers in government-run camps. Despite strong opposition from the festival lobby, which has a financial incentive to profit off the suffering of elephants, the pilot program finally happened October 14 - 19. We commend KFD officials for believing in us and in this project! VFAES founder Sangita Iyer and a team of two volunteers were able to visit the Kottoor Elephant Rehabilitation Center in Kerala to engage mahouts by demonstrating positive reinforcement techniques and footcare procedures.
Range Officer Satheesan has been a ray of hope for elephants, implementing many of our suggestions (approved by Kerala's Chief Veterinarian, to whom we are immensely grateful). These suggestions included buying balls and tires for the babies to play with, allowing the elephants to spend time wandering the forests alongside mahouts, grouping females together, and installing rope-and-pulley systems for enrichment. Twelve out of the sixteen elephants get to spend more time outdoors. The remaining four elephants, who were confiscated from temples, are currently unable to participate due to pending court cases. Overall, we are thrilled with the positive progress!
Gentle Giants Summit
In November, we organized a three-day conclave that brought together experts and stakeholders with the aim of promoting the protection of wild elephants in India, particularly in Kerala. Scientists, police, forest officials, and infrastructure developers all convened to discuss the challenges facing wild elephants and to determine solutions and practical measures. A steering committee, named Mathanga Manava Maitri, was formed to put an end to elephant torture. They will work to continue educating the younger generation and ensure laws protecting elephants are strictly enforced.
Before this groundbreaking summit, VFAES founder Sangita Iyer faced cyberbullying and a smear campaign from those in the festival lobby who would like to continue exploiting elephants unabated. They had tried unsuccessfully to stop the elephant rehabilitation program from happening in October, as well as the summit in November, and Sangita required police protection due to threats. But this has only strengthened her resolve. It proves our work has touched a nerve — and is making a real difference in the lives of elephants!
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
We would like to thank all of our supporters for the immense generosity. We couldn't have done it without you! But elephants still need your help...
The Kerala Corridor Project
In 2019, we began planting the seeds for a new project to help wild elephants! We are officially partnering with the KFD to create elephant corridors and restore habitat in Kerala’s North Nilambur region. We're currently raising funds to purchase the first 2 acres, which will allow the elephants to travel safely between fragmented patches of forestland. Once we secure this plot, we will transfer it to the KFD for management, and work collaboratively to create our first corridor by the end of 2020.