India is home to 25000 wild elephants - the largest Asian elephant population in the world

Ecologists and  conservationists the world over believe that Indian forests have nurtured the  largest population of Asian elephants for a unique reason: The people of India  see the elephant as a form of Ganesha, the god of auspiciousness and wisdom!  They are reluctant to kill elephants even when they kill hundreds of people or  destroy crops in several eastern and southern states of India.

“In the conservation of wild life, it is difficult to judge  whether human beings are wrong or animals are getting out of control,” says  Meenakshi Nagendran, who represents the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund  Programme, an arm of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “I have worked with  the Asian Elephant Conservation Programme for some years now and have studied  the reasons why wild elephants destroy crops and kill villagers all through the  eastern and southern states of India. As their habitats – the dense tropical  jungles of Assam, Bengal, Orissa, Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala –  through which the elephant corridor passes – get denuded or destroyed and human  settlements encroach upon forest lands, elephants are deprived of their food and  water resources. They are forced to come out of the jungles in search of food  and water. Naturally, they feast upon the harvests, which are ripening in farms  that border the forest. One elephant eats 150 kg of food and drinks 150 gallons  of water every day! That makes the requirement of 25000 elephant really  awesome.

“Additionally, when  elephants get used to eating tasty paddy crops, they return to eat some more,  thus destroying the livelihood of thousands of poor farmers in India. But we  must respect their wildness and realize that they do not have the ability to  discern that they are doing wrong in stampeding into the fields so carefully  planted and nurtured by human beings. As animals, they go only by their hunger  and thirst. People, on the other hand, are forced to encroach upon forestlands  and even reserved animal sanctuaries and parks because of the huge growth in  population and the burgeoning ambitions of people to own more and more. This is  the basis of the animal-human being conflict which results in loss to both!”

Meenakshi informs that  the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund of U.S. has, until now, disbursed $6.4  million to various NGOs (like Aranya) and community projects groups working in  the area of conservation and to government agencies looking after elephant  populations in India. There is hope in India that if the conservation programme  works well with the support of international agencies, Asian elephants in India  will multiply and make India a wild-life-rich nation. At the present time, the  entire world has just 35,000 wild Asian elephants, out of which 25,000 are in  Indian forests. Kerala, the southern state, has the maximum number of elephants  in captivity. Elephants are used in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra  for all festivals, be they Hindu or Muslim. The rich and fabulous temples of  South India nurture large numbers of elephants because they are considered  sacred and auspicious. They are caparisoned with heavy golden ornaments and  participate in temple processions and festivals throughout the year. They are  also employed in the business of timber cutting and huge construction sites.

Krishnendu Bose, a  wild life enthusiast-film-maker, has been tracking India’s elephant population  with passion for the past two decades. Having created a large amount of footage  on elephant behavior and their conflict with human beings, Bose has now made a  film called “Elephant – God or Destroyer”. Bose actually lived in Kerala  and Karnataka villages bordering elephant forests and filmed their attacks on  farms and human beings. He says that wild elephants have killed hundreds of  people in the last three years. His film shows how villagers in remote forests  build their own alarm systems to drive away elephant herds from their fields.  Bose shows in the film that the main threat to wild elephants is from the  destruction of forest corridors, which are vital for elephants to move from one  forest to another – from the Karbi-Anglong forest in Assam to the Satyamangalam  forest in Kerala. This corridor – which stretches from Assam, through Bengal,  Bihar, Orissa, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka to end in Kerala – is constantly  depleted or destroyed by highways, dams, railway lines, human encroachments and  by timber merchants and quarry owners in the Nilgiris, the Eastern and Western  Ghats and the Himalayan foothills.

“Elephants are listed  under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972,” says Bose,  “But when their forest habitats shrink, the elephant-human being conflict  worsens. What chance does a human being have in comparison to an elephant,  which weighs 4000 kgs? When elephants become insecure, they attack human beings  and are sometimes shot down. They stop mating and the species comes under the  threat of extinction. As it is, in some parts of India, there is one female per  100 male elephants. This is dangerous for the survival of the Asian elephant.”  Bose’s film, made with help from the Public  Sector Broadcasting Trust, India, is a graphic portrayal of the present  situation in many states. Bose further says, “The Kaziranga experiment of  India’s wildlife programme has been successful. It is found that whenever man  leaves nature alone, the forces of nature heal themselves and bring back the  normal balance of forest life. In Kaziranga, it has been found that by stopping  human interference, the number of rhinos, elephants and even tigers have  increased in numbers!”

Bose further says,  “The Asian elephant has survived in spite of all these disasters because it is  considered an incarnation or form of Ganesha. But villagers, as you can see in  my film, are beginning to question their own faith. Is the elephant an animal,  a god or a destroyer? They ask. Still, their faith emerges stronger and they  are reluctant to harm an elephant except in extreme cases. Though their numbers  are depleting, wild animals like tigers, lions, deer, elephants etc continue to  inhabit Indian forests because of the faith of millions that each species is  associated with one divine deity or the other. But on the other hand, the  destruction of animals and forests continued unabated. This is the strange  duality of the Indian cultural mindset.”

Krishnendu Bose’s film  has been shown in India through the good offices of Meenakshi Nagendran from  the U.S. Asian Elephant Conservation Fund Programme, Bittu Sahgal, editor of  Sanctuary and Hemendra Kothari, founder, Wildlife Conservation Trust of India.

Author - Elephants are a symbol of aishwarya - opulence and prosperity - strength and wisdom. They are the vahana of Lakshmi and are auspicious. This is why they feature in all temples. Also, Buddha's mother Mahamaya saw a white elephant in her dream before the birth of the Buddha and thus in Buddhist temples, the Buddha is represented by an elephant. Similarly, Trishala, the mother of Mahaveer Swami, the 24th Jain Tirthankar, also saw an elephant among the 14 auspicious symbols in her dream while she was pregnant. Additionally, Ganesha, the lord of knowledge, auspiciousness and wisdom has an elephant head. Thus to all Indic religions and cultures, the elephant is sacred and appears in all places of worship. It is symbolic of royalty. The king of Siam  or Thailand has the largest collection of white elephants which are even more auspicious and there are films made on his collection. A search on the net will show these films.’.

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