On Elephant Day, a salute to an intelligent animal of the wild
© WCS - India
Her mother, and her mother and her mother, had all passed this way, down generations and now here she was. But for some reason, there was a huge wall ahead. This could not be broken down like the fences the humans put up nowadays. How to get on to the path ahead? She had to lead the few family members now left in her group...
He just could not understand the commotion. Why were the humans making such a noise? And waving flames of fire? It had been ages since he had found some delicious food in the forests. He needed to get his trunk on to those crops. He would risk it.
Oh no! Oh no! What was that monstrous moving thing that had just killed her one-year-old? She tried to get him onto his feet but there was no response.. she wailed some time, her sisters came and told her it was over but she refused to leave his side. Swaying and waiting. Till finally the next day she gave up and joined the others. Her tears had dried.
There was no way to proceed as the dam waters had submerged so much of the land that was their home. There was no other option but to explore a new route and she was leading her herd when suddenly there were gunshots fired and humans shouting. Before her eyes, the young member fell down like he was dead. The rest got scared and moved off in all directions. Before she could, she was hit. The next she remembered was waking up in a strange place where there were more humans and some elephants, but these had heavy chains on their legs and seemed to be in the human's control. And before she knew, there they came at her, the humans and their elephants. Pushing her poking her and beating her. She tried at first to fight and then gave up. There were too many of them. And her body was sore. Finally, they put chains on her leg too and moved her into a big cage. From there she had to watch the painful scene as they brought others of her group one by one and tortured until they all gave up. All now had chains on their feet and no place to move....
The story of elephants caught in the vortex of human population explosion (at present rates it could double in 25 years) and the subsequent loss and degradation of habitat, makes for heart-wrenching reading. With dams, roads, and railways breaking elephant corridors, the gentle giants are more and more pitted against humans in a competition for scarce resources.
Once found in large numbers from Iran to China, Elephas maximas, the Asian elephant is an endangered species today. From over 100,000 early last century to less than 50,000 now, they can be seen only in the Indian sub-continent and parts of south-east Asia. Since 1950 the number of Asian elephants has declined by 75% and this is largely due to habitat loss and degradation from infrastructure and agricultural conversion of forest lands. Besides the issue of poaching for ivory and now for its skin too, the Asian elephant is also heavily domesticated and large numbers kept in captivity. In fact, one-third of Asian elephants are claimed to be in captivity. Young ones are caught, being easy to train, and in the process, the mother who tries to protect the calf is often killed.
Among one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, the elephant is capable of joy, learning and memory, mourning and long periods of grief. The Wikipedia page on elephant intelligence touches on various other abilities of the pachyderm. There is no time to be lost if we want to protect this magnificent animal and save it from extinction. Freeing the elephant corridors, allowing natural vegetation to be restored in the forests and ensuring protection from the poachers are some of the urgent tasks to be addressed. Perhaps then our children, and their children and theirs, will still be able to feel the joy in seeing a wild elephant ambling through the forest, or a herd with babies frolicking and enjoying in the water.
Written by Jayalakshmi K