Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Feb 21, 2019 : Asian elephants live in a region of the world with the densest human population. In India, with 1.3 billion people jostling for space, the elephants are one of the first species to suffer due to their size, needs and nomadic nature. The main threats to the animal’s survival are loss of habitats—owing to pressure from fast-increasing human populations, their changing lifestyles, and consequential agricultural and developmental activities- and poaching for ivory.
To secure a future for India’s wild elephants, it is essential that we ensure their uninterrupted movement between key habitats. And to do this, designated corridors (relatively narrow and linear patches of vegetation forming vital natural habitat linkages between larger forest patches) must be legally secured and protected. This is what Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has been working on through the Right of Passage project for the last decade-and-a-half and has identified 101 such elephant corridors across 11 states of India. Our aim, in partnering with the Government of India’s Project Elephant, the forest departments of elephant range states, and various non-governmental organizations, has been to protect and secure elephant corridors, while simultaneously rehabilitating (and improving the livelihoods of) people affected by conflict in corridor areas.
The Gaj Yatra is a signature campaign undertaken by WTI in association with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The campaign conceptualized on the lines of a road show aims at celebrating elephants and spreading awareness on elephant corridors and reaching out to people living with Human-Elephant conflict at a grass root level in elephant states.
The Gaj Yatra was flagged off in Delhi and Mumbai on the 12th and 13th of August 2017 respectively. The campaign was launched by the Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Dr. Harsh Vardhan in New Delhi on World Elephant day. Around 400 people attended the event including policy makers, conservationists, media, and 200 school children from 20 schools in Delhi. The second event was launched in Mumbai at the revered ‘Shri Sidhivinakaya’ – renowned ‘Ganesha’ (Elephant god) temple – in the presence of then, Union Minister for Railways, Mr. Suresh Prabhu and various celebrities from the Indian film industry. The event too received impressive coverage both on social media platforms as well as mainstream media.
The Gaj Yatra campaign has been successfully conducted in the state of Meghalaya. A four-day campaign (28th-31st May 18) led by partners Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) travelled across five identified elephant corridors of Meghalaya- Ranggira-Nokrek, Rewak-Imange, Nokrek-Imangre, Siju-Rewak and Baghmara-Balpakram and witnessed support of over 2000 people including dignitaries and supporters who joined the herd and pledged to secure the future of Asian elephants.
To enhance the profile of Asian elephant, a mega event was celebrated in the National Capital involving key policy makers and high level influencers from 12th to 15th August 2018. The event organised by WTI in collaboration with the MoEFCC and United Nations Environment (UNEP), boasted of 101 elephant installations which represented the 101 elephant corridors of India. The event celebrated Asian elephant as India’s National Heritage Animal and was an amalgamation of ecology, art, culture, music, policy, film, spirituality and media.
Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) with support from Tata Chemicals Limited proudly flagged off Gaj Yatra in Tamil Nadu on 2nd February 2019 at the Sri Krishna Arts and Science College, Palakkad Main road, Kuniyamuthur, Coimbatore. The opening ceremony was graced by Mr. Abhishek Nigam, Head of Silica, TCL and Mr. Satish Trivedi. Mr. Nigam, during the event said “Right of Passage movement to save elephant corridors is a brilliant solution to the problems faced by Asian elephants today. I am happy and proud that TCL is associated with this initiative and we pledge to continue our support. I would also encourage other corporates to be a part of this bandwagon.”
The event was flagged off by Shri Dindigul C. Sreenivasan, Minister of Forests, Tamil Nadu. While addressing the audience in his inaugural speech, Shri Sreenivasan highlighted the efforts of Tamil Nadu in protecting the Western Ghats and working towards combating human-animal conflict. He appreciated the efforts by WTI in identifying 101 corridors and thus aiming to secure unhindered passage for the National Heritage Animal, the Asian elephants.
The audience were then addressed by Shri S.P. Velumani, Minister of Municipal Administration, Rural Development and Implementation of special programme, Tamil Nadu. Shri Velumani expressed extreme happiness in being a part of Gaj Yatra where he emphasised on the protection of natural resources.
Dr NVK Ashraf, Senior Director and Chief Veterinarian, Wildlife Trust of India during the event said “the so called corridors that we struggle to secure for elephants, are nothing but consequences of our own misdeeds. The irony is that we are now trying to secure them! Without securing these corridors, the prospects of long-term conservation of elephants in the western ghats look bleak”
The event was then followed by handing over of memento for all the guests soon after which the rally started around the venue. A procession of over 300 people including school kids, members of various organisations and general public was led by NCC cadets. As people celebrate our National Heritage Animal-the Asian elephant the slogans to save elephants and protect their habitat reverberated during the march.
Further the one-day ceremony included workshop session on Elephant corridors. The workshop focused on discussions on the conservation of endangered Asian elephants and their habitat. The panelists discussed the ways to mitigate threats prevalent in the elephant corridors and solutions to tackle negative encounters between elephants and humans were highlighted. The panel members included Dr. B. Ramakrishnan, Assistant Professor, Department of Wildlife Biology, Govt. Arts College, Ooty, Dr A.J.T. John Singh, Former Dean, Wildlife Institute of India, Shri. A. Venkatesh IFS, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Project Tiger, Tamil Nadu, Shri Ajay Desai, Elephant Scientist, WWF – India and Dr. K. Ramkumar, Manager & Project Head, Wildlife Trust of India.
The Gaj Yatra opening ceremony was held in association with the Western Ghats National Conference organised by OSAI, a Tamil Nadu based NGO.
The Yatra on ground commenced on 21st February 2019 from Coimbatore region and culminate on 8th March 2019 in Chennai through a closing event. The 16 corridors identified in Tamil Nadu, (including the ones interstate with Karnataka and Kerala) and their respective regions which include Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, Gudalur Forest Division, Nilgiri Forest Division, Anaimalai Tiger Reserve, Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve, Srivilliputhur Grizzled Giant Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary, Hosur Forest Division and Cauvery North Wildlife Sanctuary will be covered during the Yatra.
The Gaj Yatra will be conducted in association with the Green Corridor Champion (a cadre of local organisations/individuals working in respective regions across India to protect the identified elephant corridors) teams namely OSAI Environment Organisation, Dr. B. Ramakrishnan, Assistant Professor, Department of Wildlife Biology, Government Arts College, Ooty, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Jungle NGO, Wildlife Association of Rajapalayam (WAR) and A Rocha.
A convoy of 3 elephant art pieces will travel in open vehicles (fabricated) throughout the route. Several activities during the Yatra will include elephant themed street plays, wall painting, coloring competition, film screening, localized rallies, awareness talks by elephant experts etc. and will target school and college children, community living around the corridors, local leaders and key officials. The targeted stakeholders will be sensitized on the importance of endangered Asian elephant and the need to facilitate Right of Passage for the gentle giant.
WTI is highly grateful to TCL for supporting Gaj Yatra campaign in Tamil Nadu. With their crucial support we have moved closer to our target to cover the 11 elephant states with 101 identified corridors and ensure Right of Passage for elephants in India.