Environment is a subject that holds immense importance in the UPSC Civil services examinations. It guarantees a candidate good marks if he is thorough with all the major landmarks that have happened in the field. Today, this article will cover one such important topic- Project Elephant.
UPSC civil services exam – Mains GS3 – Biodiversity and Environment
What is Project Elephant?
In the year 1992, Project Elephant, a Centrally Sponsored Scheme was introduced by the government for the betterment of elephant conservation. Owing to numerous tragic cases and unfortunate incidents that screamed to the world the lack of rules that preserved the huge tuskers, the declaration of Project Elephant was a strong statement made by the then government as an initiative to protect the Wild East Asian Elephants in the country. Today the project is being implemented in 16 states. Under the aegis of the project, an elephant census is conducted once in five years.
What are the primary objectives of Project Elephant?
Project Elephant has three major objectives:
- To protect, preserve and open traditional elephant corridors
- To avoid animal-human conflict giving focus to elephants
- To come up with welfare initiatives for captive elephants.
However, Project Elephant was never constrained to these three major aims. The project by itself was a major initiative that took after another major milestone that saw light and success in the conservation of yet another species – Project Tiger, introduced in the year 1973 under the government led by Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi. Project Elephant was therefore a result of a deep analysis of the conditions present during the time and better reflection of other similar schemes that came before it.
Some of the other ways in which Project Elephant plans to make a significant impact include the following:
- To ensure a healthy elephant population that is living in an ecosystem that is well maintained.
- To preserve the habitat of the species and reverse the deterioration of the same that happened over the course of few years.
- To introduce infrastructure and research facilities to ensure developments for better conservation of elephants.
- To provide more veterinary support for the species.
- To strictly prevent activities that fall under poaching.
- To educate the public about the need for the preservation of wildlife.
- To encourage eco-friendly activities and prevent elephant depredation.
- To financially help those livelihoods which were affected by the ban of ivory products.
What were the major threats faced by elephants that made Project Elephant an imperative?
The huge tuskers are terrestrial animals that were and continue to be threatened in numerous ways. These include:
Poaching: Poaching is a major threat to the elephants not only in the country but also across the world. Poaching of the species has taken birth hundreds of years before. The body parts of the mammal offer valuable possessions for the hunters which have made the species an attractive prey. Their tusks, tail hair, skin, nails are just a few among the used body parts. While tusks commonly end up as ivory and jewelry, elephant skin is considered a good source to make pastes that act as the cure for diseases such as eczema.
Habitat destruction: Deforestation and eating up of the lands that were once home to the animals are threats not just to elephants but to every other species on earth. Destruction and deterioration of the habitat mean the disturbance of the ecosystem itself. Being a sensitive and close-knitted group the elephants tend to be deeply affected by the damage to their environment.
Human-animal conflict: With human taking up their lands, elephants tend to reciprocate in the same manner leading to human-animal conflicts. Incidents are reported that detail how elephants have destroyed plantations and losses incurred by the farmers as a consequence.
Exploitation: The exploitation of these mammals for religious and other cultural activities has increased over the last few decades. Making them parts of long processions that demand months of practice and rigorous activities have caught the attention of animal lovers. In some states, they are made to stand at the same spot in hot climates for hours just so that the humans can feast on their grandeur.
What is the status given to elephants in the Indian environmental laws?
Owing to the threats that the mammals face, the Indian elephants are listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. By getting listed under this schedule, Indian Elephants have become one of those species that have strict laws ensuring their protection. Yet, these laws have not been enacted in the way they need to be implemented.
At the global level, African and Asian elephants are listed as ‘Vulnerable African Elephants and ‘Endangered Asian Elephants’ respectively in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
What are the initiatives taken by the Railways to protect elephants as a part of Project Elephant?
Through the following steps the railways also got involved with the project in their own way:
- Elimination of invasive spaces
- Implemented measures to ensure protection from fire hazard
- Developed new water bodies for the species
- Restoration of corridors adhering to environmental rules and ecological standards
- Based on soil and water conservation measures elephant corridors were identified at the intra-state, state, and international levels.
The infrastructure developed for the running of the locomotives has always existed as a disturbance for the species and their habitats. Hence as a moral responsibility, the railways have always tried to show their concern for the welfare of elephants. With the backing up of a strong initiative like Project Elephant, the institution got a huge chance to prove the same.
How many elephant reserves are there in India?
As of today, there are 32 elephant reserves in the country. Refer the table below to know them.
South Orissa ER
Badalkhol – Tamorpingla ER
South Arunachal ER
Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong ER
Eastern Dooars ER
Garo Hills ER
Uttar Pradesh ER
How did a “Task Force on Project Elephant” come into play?
Following the implementation of Project Elephant in the year 1992, it was not a smooth journey. There were numerous challenges and obstacles that were often coming in the way both in terms of financial and institutional. This together with the immense responsibility that the country holds for conserving the species at the global level the government decided to come up with a well-thought-out policy to implement Project Elephant. This gave birth to a task force under the chairmanship of Dr.Mahesh Rangarajan. Comprising of 12 eminent members with experience in wildlife conservation in one or the other way this task force came up with findings that were submitted in the form of a report under the title “Gajah: Securing the Future for Elephants in India.” in 2010.
In Gajah, the task force revealed the relevant numbers that were significant in deciding the further course of Project Elephant. According to the report, there were 88 elephant corridors in the country at the time out of which 7 corridors were not in a condition to be used. Similar to this there were many facts that were brought to the light through this report. Moreover, it gave recommendations and suggestions to deal with each aspect that was presented as problems in the venture to protect and preserve the huge tuskers. Gajah was thus a milestone in the journey of Project Elephant. To view the full report click here.
What are the other major schemes that were introduced for the conservation of elephants?
Two other major schemes that are along the same lines that UPSC aspirants need to know are:
Haathi Meri Saathi
This campaign was launched by the Indian government in the year 2011 as a call to bring together people for active participation in the conservation of elephants. The exact date of launch was 24 May 2011. The Ministry of Environment along with the Wild Trust of India conducted the campaign. This centrally sponsored scheme was an extension of Project Elephant. The then environment minister Jairam Ramesh unveiled the mascot of the campaign “Gaju” along with the logo and website.
Giving primary focus to raise awareness among the public this campaign put forward the idea to establish Gajah centers in all elephant landscapes to facilitate better arrangements for the welfare of the species.
The campaign was attended by 8 countries that formed the group E-8. These 8 nations together made up almost one-third of the elephant population in the world at the time. The eight countries were India, Tanzania, Thailand, Indonesia, Kenya, Botswana, Sri Lanka, and the Republic of Congo. Having distinct species of elephants [Loxodonta cyclotis (African Forest Elephant), Elephas maximus (Asian Elephant), Loxodonta Africana (African Bush Elephant)], these countries have a special interest in the conservation of these mammals. The program addressed major concerns like the dismal condition of elephant corridors, deteriorating human-elephant relationships, unsafe conditions for captive elephants, and many more.
MIKE or Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants was an international collaboration that focused on the reason for elephant welfare deterioration and the reasons for the rise in the mortality rate of the species. Established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), this programme managed to gather the focus of the entire world during its course of two years (2017-2019).
Around 28 sites spread across 13 Asian countries participated (10 from India) in the program. CITES engaged IUCN in 2017 to implement MIKE in two sub regions: South Asia and Southeast Asia. Unlike the other elephant conservation programmes MIKE gave priority to analyzing the mortality rate of elephants from the past records and live shreds of evidence (elephant carcass). In addition to this, the program managed to throw light upon the importance of having strict rules and good law enforcement to ensure a safe future for elephants. It also recommended steps to improve the elephant sites through better financial and infrastructural support (training for the front-line field staff and provisions for more site field equipment)
The Indian government continues its quest to bring a safe and secure future for elephants through various schemes and projects. Project Elephant was one such program that happened to make more impact than others. Yet, unfortunately, even today many of the strategies of the project still remain only on paper. As a nation that has a significant number of elephants, India needs to carefully move forward with strict measures and novel loophole-free laws to ensure that the species continue to live in the decades to come.
Some quick facts!
- The last elephant census was conducted in the year 2017.
- Two methods used for elephant census are direct counting and indirect counting (using dung decay formula).
- India has the second-highest number of elephants used for tourism purposes in Asia.
- The elephant was declared as the ‘National Heritage Animal‘ in 2010.
- Karnataka has the highest population of elephants among the states in India followed by Assam.
- A report titled ‘Elephant, Not Commodities’ talking about the dismal condition of elephants in entertainment venues in the country was released by World Animal Protection in 2020.
- According to a recent report by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) Assam tops in elephant casualties on railway tracks closely followed by West Bengal and Odisha.