Why should we care what happens to elephants?
New Delhi, Aug 12: Today, 12th August is World Elephant Day! India once the home to a large elephant population widely distributed across most states, now has fragmented populations because of excessive habitat loss, subsequent conflict with human beings and poaching for their tusks.
The objective behind celebrating the World Elephant Day is to focus attention of stakeholders to support conservation policies, including improving enforcement policies to prevent the illegal poaching and trade of ivory, conserving elephant habitats, providing better treatment to captive elephants and reintroducing some captive elephants into sanctuaries.
Yet, we need these mighty animals for more reasons than one!
India has a little over 27,000 wild Asian elephants, about 55 per cent of the species' estimated global population, yet these natural nomads face an increasingly uncertain future in the country due to growing human population and depleting areas available for elephants to roam.
They range in 29 Elephant Reserves spread over 10 elephant landscapes in 14 states, covering about 65,814 sq km of forests in northeast, central, north-west and south India.
But if that seems like a vast amount of territory, consider that Elephant Reserves include areas of human use and habitation - in fact unless they lie within existing Reserve Forests or the Protected Area network, Elephant Reserves are not legally protected habitats in themselves.
So a large chunk of the country's elephant habitat is unprotected, susceptible to encroachment or already in use by humans. And while elephant populations are largely concentrated in protected forests in the north-eastern states, east-central India, the Himalayan foothills in the north, and the Western and Eastern Ghats in the south, the animals require free movement between these areas to maintain genetic flow and offset seasonal variations in the availability of forage and water, according to WTI.
That's why 'elephant corridors' are so important. As forest lands continue to be lost, these relatively narrow, linear patches of vegetation form vital natural habitat linkages between larger forest patches. They allow elephants to move between secure habitats freely, without being disturbed by humans. In many cases, elephant corridors are also critical for other wildlife including India's endangered National Animal, the Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris).
Why we need elephants
The elephant not only has an important physical presence in Indian tradition and culture but is also a metaphor for many elements of a civil society - emotion, intelligence, memory and most importantly, living in herds which teaches us the importance of a family
With their dung, they 'transport' seeds all over the forests. At they same time, they also clear up large trees and ensure that tiny plants on the forest floor get enough sunlight.
In many such little ways, these large mammals keep the entire ecosystem in check and the forests as we know them, cannot exist without them.