Gaj Yatra Rolls Out in Meghalaya -Wildlife Trust of India

Gaj Yatra Rolls Out in Meghalaya

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Tura, Meghalaya May 28, 2018:  India’s biggest campaign for elephants, the Gaj Yatra is going to be travelling through the Garo Hills landscape of the north-eastern state of Meghalaya over the next four days, touching five identified elephant corridors.

Ceremonially flagged off this evening amidst hundreds of supporters and dignitaries in Tura, the Gaj Yatra will travel over the next four days and culminate in Baghmara.

Hon’ble Home Minister Shri James PK Sangma;  Ms Agatha Sangma, MLA, South Tura; Ms Dia Mirza, Brand Ambassador, WTI; Mr Vivek Menon, ED & CEO, WTI; and Shri CP Marak, PCCF & HoFF flag off the Gaj Yatra in Tura

Led by partners Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Gaj Yatra is the biggest event ever planned around India’s National Heritage Animal – the Asian elephant. It will move through 12 elephant range States over the next few months, generating a groundswell of popular and policy support to help secure Right of Passage for elephants through 101 vital migratory corridors mapped across India.

“We are delighted to flag off the Gaj Yatra in Meghalaya, which has set a precedent in securing Right Of Passage for elephants with its unique model of community declared Village Reserve Forests – a model that should be emulated in other parts of our country”, said WTI CEO Vivek Menon

Dignitaries from across Meghalaya were present on the occasion, expressing solidarity for the Right of Passage for elephants.  Shri PR Marak (IFS), Conservator of Forests, Garo Hills; Ms Agatha Sangma, MLA –  South Tura; Shri Thomas A Sangma, MLA – North Tura; Shri Dipul R. Marak, Hon’ble Chief Executive member, Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC), and Shri Skylance G Momin, President, Nokma Council also pledged their support to the cause.

Shri CP Marak (IFS), Principal Chief Conservator of Forests & Head of Forest Force said: “Elephants symbolise the availability of natural habitat, which portrays the provision of forest cover and food, and sends a strong message that our ecosystem can still support both human and animal population in the State. Depletion of elephant population would therefore mean degradation of their habitat, which in turn, would bring about man-animal conflict. So, this Gaj Yatra aims to spread the message that the elephant as a flagship species is the best indicator of the health of the ecosystem of the State.”

Addressing the assembled dignitaries, WTI’s Executive Director & CEO, Mr Vivek Menon said: “We are delighted to flag off the Gaj Yatra from Tura. Meghalaya has set a precedent in securing Right Of Passage for elephants with its unique model of community declared village reserve forests – a model that can and should be emulated in other parts of our country. The Nokmas, State Government and the GHADC have a key role in securing these elephant corridors and our success shows what is possible with political will and public support.”

Speaking on the occasion, Shri James PK Sangma, Hon’ble Minister for Home, lauded the organisers for this noble initiative and expressed that he had gained more information about the objectives of the Gaj Yatra and the importance of the protection of the National Heritage Animal. Terming the conservation mission to protect the elephants as crucial, he reiterated that school children are the most important stakeholders for preserving our environment and maintaining the ecosystem of the region. “There had been 14700 man-animal conflicts in the past which may have occurred due to space constraint and less quantity of food available in the region”, he informed. He extended his full support and cooperation from the State Government and appealed to the Nokmas, the custodians of the land, to support the move towards co-existence between man and animal and help in the effort of the conservationists for the success of the initiative.

Hon’ble Home Minister Shri James PK Sangma speaks during the launch of Gaj Yatra at Tura

While addressing the gathering, Ms Agatha Sangma said that humans and elephants have co-existed in Garo Hills for ages; however, as time has passed the people have taken over more and more land and the elephant including other animals have lost their habitat. “This may perhaps be the reason why they behave unnaturally and come into conflict with man”, she added.  Further, she called for a holistic approach in reconstructing the environment and enhancing the preservation of the species in the region.

WTI Brand Ambassador Ms Dia Mirza, who has always been at the forefront of wildlife conservation causes, said: “The Gaj Yatra is a movement that conveys the fragile connection between human progress and wildlife protection. I know the elephant has great significance in Garo culture, and that is why it is wonderful that the first Gaj Yatra begins in Garo Hills. This initiative by IFAW-WTI and the Meghalaya Forest Dept is truly encouraging. It is heartening to see the communities actively working towards saving our National Heritage Animal. ”

Encouragingly, the launch event saw a huge turnout from school and college students, and members of the local communities. The future of India’s National Heritage Animal is in the hands of these people, who are closely connected to the region’s forests, and the policymakers who set the development agenda. Through a sustained process of community involvement and engagement with support from the GHADC –WTI and its partner World Land Trust have thus far secured two elephant corridors through a unique community conservation model in which villagers in the Garo Hills have set aside 2822 hectares of land as Village Reserve Forests, providing safe passage for elephants and hoolock gibbons. It is hoped that the Gaj Yatra will lend a renewed urgency to these efforts, helping to secure a safer future for the region’s elephants and tribal communities alike.

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