We dream of a day when people and elephants can live harmoniously. Too many elephants are getting killed in conflicts with humans! We simply cannot allow them to disappear from the face of this earth. There are less than 40,000 Asian elephants in the world, fully 60% of them, that is 27,000 plus wander in the jungles of India. The problem is, 80% of their habitats have been occupied by people. In other words, people and elephants share 80% of the landmass in India.
Out of the 27,000 Asian elephants in India, only an estimated 1,000 of them are bull elephants, causing gender disparity. A shrinking gene pool poses a serious threat to long-term species survival. Bulls with tusks are poached for ivory, as female Asian elephants do not have tusks. In recent years, more and more tuskless bulls have been documented, potentially because they escape the poachers, with a better chance of survival.
Asian elephants are a keystone species and “gardeners of the planet.” They consume some 150-200 varieties of berries, bark, leaves, roots, and foliage. They wander across vast areas of forest for 16-18 hours a day, dispersing seeds in their dung (some 250 pounds per elephant per day). Seeds become trees. Trees give us oxygen to breathe, while absorbing carbon dioxide, acting as natural air purifiers and playing a key role in the evaporative cycle that provides rainwater to drink and replenishes natural aquifers.
Asian elephants could also be considered agents that mitigate air pollution. Here’s how… nations have borders, but lakes, rivers and the atmosphere are borderless, and pollution drifts across the open sink. As noted above, trees play a vital role in trapping carbon dioxide, and elephants propagate trees.
Furthermore, given that Asian elephants are the second-largest living land mammal (African elephants being the largest), they have the power and dexterity to trample across forests and create pathways that lead to waterholes and fodder, helping other animals to sustain themselves. Clearly elephants are necessary for the survival of forest ecosystems, and indeed many creatures.
Ongoing awareness and education is vitally important to changing the mindsets and attitudes of people. This should be followed by creation of rescue centers to rehabilitate captive elephants. Out of the approximately 27,300 elephants in India, around 1,000 of them are bulls, posing a significant threat to the long-term survival of the species. Our ultimate goal is to relocate the ones that recover into the wild, which will help address the risk of a shrinking gene pool.
The impact of elephant slavery in India
Elephants have been part of Indian culture since time immemorial. They were used in ancient warfare when there were no weapons of destruction, for logging when there was no advanced machinery. But now that technologies have evolved so dramatically there’s really no use for these elephants in captivity. Additionally there’s enough scientific evidence to show that elephants are highly intelligent, social and noble animals that deserve respect and reverence.
But instead a select few people around the world are exploiting these animals behind the veil of culture and religion. The cultural and religious sentiments stir deep passion that could result in conflicts. Therefore any solutions presented must take into consideration the decades of cultural conditioning that has led people to believe that elephants are part of culture and religion.
In reality Hinduism and Buddhism teaches ahimsa, whereas everything inflicted upon these elephants is himsa - cruelty. And so the Indian government is caught between a rock and a hard place because people continue to justify culture and religion for the exploitation of elephants. Clearly, the nexus of culture, commerce and politics are so intricately connected that untangling them is going to take many years, if not decades, of reprogramming the people of India.