I've always been intrigued by the Indian elephant. Among all countries of the world, India has the largest remaining population of elephants (57%).
Weighing over 5 tons and measuring up to 6.4m in length and around 2 to 3.5m in height, the Indian elephant can spend up to 16 hours a day doing nothing but feeding. They excrete about 220 pounds of dung every day while hovering between an area that spans up to 125 square miles. Experts believe that one of the best places for germinating seeds is in a patch of elephant dung.
Elephants are not only considered iconic in our country but also in other parts of Asia. They help maintain the integrity of forest and grassland habitats.
It is estimated that the population of elephants in India is around 27,000. Did you know that the Indian elephant is listed as "Endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an organization working in the interests of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources? Its population has dramatically declined by at least 50% over the last few years owing to habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation.
News of wild elephants entering villages is not uncommon in India. Small farmers can lose their entire livelihood overnight from a destructive elephant raid; they often end up killing elephants in retaliation.
Habitat loss forces these animals to seek alternative food sources outside their forest homes. It can also cause them to be confined to isolated populations that might not be able to follow ancient migratory routes or mix with other herds.
What causes habitat loss and fragmentation in the first place? An ever-increasing quest for land, fueled by a sudden surge in human population, has led to illegal encroachments in protected areas and forest clearing for rapid development.
Dr. Barney Long, Asian Species Expert, says "As South Asia's population explodes, elephants are getting squeezed into smaller areas leading to major conflicts; we need to champion solutions that help both elephants and people."
I couldn't agree more!
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is playing an instrumental role in the conservation of Indian elephants by reconnecting protected areas via community-based action. By restoring degraded biological corridors, elephants can access their migratory routes without disturbing human habitation. This mitigates the risk of human-elephant conflicts.
WWF trains, equips, and supports local staff in India to patrol protected areas and check elephant distribution and numbers. It also invests each year in anti-poaching operations, and the program is gearing to prepare an anti-poaching strategy.
Kerala-based Muthoot Group has partnered with the WWF by launching the 'Friends for Life' project, as part of its Haathi Mera Saathi Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative. The project aims to secure elephant population and manage human-elephant conflict (HEC) in the six Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Uttarakhand, northern West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. This partnership will also fuel the existing efforts by identifying strategic conflict management measures applicable to each region and impose legislation to protect elephants.
The group has been doing CSR for over 800 years, perhaps even before the term was coined. This was done in terms of educational, healthcare, etc. for the 5000-odd workers of the family who were employed for the clearance of forest area and plantations on an authorization given as koop by the Maharajah of Travancore nearly 800 years ago.
Alexander George Muthoot, Director, Muthoot Group believes "The Muthoot Group has always stood up for protecting the environment and wildlife habitat. Association with the elephant was only too natural, since the logo of the group is also the elephant, which in turn denotes strength, passion, integrity and care – aspects that are integral to the vision of the group. We look forward to our association with WWF-India and aim to spread awareness about the human-elephant conflict which is on the rise. Being our first joint collaboration, we have also partnered with the local communities in the selected six states to get a real-time picture about the problems and provide solutions in terms of reducing elephant and human lives lost, secure crop and property damage in villages and build a future where humans and elephants can live in harmony with each other."
Aligned to its core values, Muthoot Group aims at achieving sustainable and continuous impact of its CSR activities, under the umbrella theme of Muthoot Haathi Mera Saathi. This campaign is a reflection of the group's continual efforts in empowering the marginalized section of the society since inception.
The Muthoot Group plans to complement this initiative with an online campaign across its social network platforms. They are also undertaking drives in their 4500+ branches to create awareness and increase public support for elephant conservation.
Mr. Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO of WWF-India, shared his thoughts on this initiative: "WWF-India has been working on elephant conservation since 1970s. India holds approximately 60% of the world's Asian elephant population and, therefore, we have a lot more responsibility towards conserving this species. We welcome this conservation alliance with The Muthoot Group as this association is a step-up of our efforts towards the management of human-elephant conflict in six Indian states. We have already set up electric fencing in Nilgiri North division of Tamil Nadu, and collected secondary information on HEC from Uttarakhand and data on human-elephant conflict from South Wayanad forest division in Kerala. Currently, ADSs (Anti Depredation Squads) have also been formed in three project locations - Doom Dooma, Majuli and Deepor Beel area in Assam to manage HEC."
As responsible citizens of India, you too can take action by creating a Panda Nation page for the next big occasion of your life like birthday and raise money to support WWF's global conservation efforts. Go ahead and make a one-time or monthly donation, or join as a partner in conservation.