Wildlife Trust of India Launches the Gaj Yatra: A Unique Campaign to Secure the Future of India’s Wild Elephants


‘Right of Passage’, the definitive publication on 101 elephant corridors identified and mapped across the country, also released at World Elephant Day event

New Delhi, August 12, 2017: On the occasion of World Elephant Day, leading wildlife conservation NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has announced the launch of the Gaj Yatra, a campaign that aims to raise awareness about the shrinking space for India’s wild elephants and the importance of securing elephant corridors. The campaign was launched at the Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, Teen Murti Bhawan, New Delhi, by the Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Dr Harsh Vardhan, WTI Executive Director & CEO Mr Vivek Menon, and actor, filmmaker, humanitarian and WTI Brand Ambassador Ms Dia Mirza this morning.

The Gaj Yatra, which is partnered by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), is the biggest event ever planned around India’s wild elephants. It will take the form of a roadshow that will move through 12 elephant range states over the next 15 months, with elephant-sized artworks created by local artists and craftsmen as the centrepiece. Gaj Mahotsavs will be organised at different venues along the way, with concerts, parades, street plays and activities for children in particular.

The Gaj Yatra’s objective is two-fold: to raise awareness about the plight of India’s National Heritage Animal, and to build a groundswell of popular support for the securing of elephant corridors.

India has about 30,000 wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus); over 50% of the species’ estimated global population. Yet these natural nomads face an increasingly uncertain future in the country. The growing resource needs of India’s human population have led to the destruction and fragmentation of wild habitats across the country, depleting the area available for elephants to roam and causing the loss of their traditional migratory paths.

Elephant corridors are vital natural habitat linkages that enable elephants and other wildlife to move through the degraded habitats lying between larger protected forests freely, without being disturbed by humans. With Asian elephants now occupying a meagre 3.5 percent of their historical range, securing these corridors has become a conservation imperative. Wildlife Trust of India has been working with the Government of India’s Project Elephant, state forest departments, and national and global NGOs to secure and protect elephant corridors for over a decade through its Right of Passage project, and it is hoped that the Gaj Yatra will lend a renewed urgency to these efforts.

The release of the second edition of Right of Passage: Elephant Corridors of India

At the World Elephant Day event at the Nehru Memorial Museum, Dr R Sukumar, eminent elephant expert, WTI Trustee and Professor of Ecology, Indian Institute of Sciences, shared his insights on the All India Synchronised Elephant Census of 2017. WTI CEO Mr Vivek Menon then made a presentation on the current status of elephant corridors in the country. The Hon’ble Union Environment Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, who was the Chief Guest, then released the ‘All India Elephant Census, 2017 Report’, as well as ‘Right of Passage’, the definitive publication on India’s 101 identified and mapped elephant corridors, prepared by Wildlife Trust of India and the UK-based charity Elephant Family in consultation with all elephant range state forest departments in the country.

The Hon’ble Minister was joined on stage by WTI CEO Mr Vivek Menon and WTI Brand Ambassador Ms Dia Mirza; together, they unveiled an elephant-themed artwork, marking the formal launch of the Gaj Yatra.

“At the core of all this stands the Asian elephant, a keystone species on whose broad back so much of India’s rich biodiversity rests. I hope the country will not fail its elephants”, said Vivek Menon.

Mr Vivek Menon spoke about the urgent need to build support for the conservation of elephants and securing of elephant corridors. “At the core of all this stands the Asian elephant”, he said; “a keystone species on whose broad back so much of India’s rich biodiversity rests. I hope the country will not fail its elephants. When WTI produced the first edition of ‘Right of Passage’ in 2005 we had mapped 88 elephant corridors; in this second edition there are 101, which shows that elephant habitats have become more fragmented. I am immensely pleased, however, that two of WTI’s elephantine endeavours have taken their first steps today. The ‘Right of Passage’ book will be one of the bedrocks of elephant conservation efforts going forward, and a critical reference tool, I hope, in infrastructure and development planning as well. The Gaj Yatra campaign will take the Gajah to the Prajah, generating vital popular support and resources for the securing of elephant corridors.”

“We share our country with the world’s largest number of Asian elephants. However, in recent years our wild lands have been steadily destroyed and degraded, posing a serious threat to elephants”, said Ms Dia Mirza. “For their security and well-being, WTI has come up with the Gaj Yatra, a campaign to create awareness about elephant corridors, which enable the free movement of elephants through increasingly fragmented habitats.”

Schoolchildren participated in elephant-themed activities at the World Elephant Day Event

Also present at the event were 200 children from 10 schools across the National Capital Region, who accompanied the Hon’ble Minister on a short walk. Finally, Ms Dia Mirza engaged the children in an interactive activity where they prepared elephant models out of clay. The children also received educational activity packs prepared by IFAW to sensitise them to the cause of elephant conservation.