GUWHATI, Aug 10 – A massive awareness-cum-action campaign titled ‘Gaja Yatra’ that focuses on securing degraded elephant corridors and improving elephant habitat will be launched across the country on World Elephant Day on August 12.
Initiated by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in association with the Government of India’s Project Elephant and Partners, Gaja Yatra will be a 15-month awareness campaign on the shrinking space for India’s wild elephants and the importance of elephant corridors.
One of the biggest events planned around India’s wild elephants, it will take place across multiple cities in India.
Talking to The Assam Tribune, actor-turned conservationist Dia Mirza, who is a founder member of WTI’s Club Nature and working closely with Gaja Yatra, said that the campaign, apart from reaching out to multiple stakeholders including those who lived near elephant habitat, would also help develop a mechanism for implementation of the mission’s objectives.
“Protection and restoration of elephant corridors is a key component of the campaign and we have identified 101 corridors for the purpose. Restoration is easier said than done, but we want to effect a change with active involvement of local communities,” she said.
Referring to the successful relocation of a village in Karbi Anglong for restoring an important elephant corridor on the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape three years back, Mirza said that the campaign would strive to replicate the successful conservation model in areas needing similar intervention.
“We will engage with local communities and also assist them with livelihood options for freeing elephant corridors,” she said.
In Assam and other parts of the Northeast, elephant habitat and corridors are shrinking drastically in the face of growing encroachment, tree-felling and commercial and industrial activities. This has also led to a spurt in the man-elephant conflict that has been taking a large toll on both elephant and human lives.
“Corridors apart, the need to save elephant habitat has never been as urgent as it is today. The problem is worsened by the fact that many elephant habitats fall outside protected forests like national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, rendering those more vulnerable to encroachment and deforestation. We are for a better mechanism that can ensure protection to reserved forests as well,” Mirza, who starred in several Bollywood blockbusters and was also a winner of Miss Asia Pacific Pageant, said.
Pointing out that the elephant had been a part of Indian folklore and culture, Mirza said that empowerment of communities living near elephant habitats could help mitigate the man-elephant conflict and protect elephant habitat.
“WTI has been working towards this for over a decade-and-a-half through ‘Right of Passage – National Elephant Corridors Project’, and we want to take it to the next level with Gaja Yatra,” she said.
Another crucial aspect, she added, is that Gaja Yatra would be in the form of a national movement and also encompass people who were not necessarily into conservation.
“We want to bring every person into the fold of this campaign. The message that elephant habitat needs protection must spread into every nook and corner for effective action to follow,” she said.
News Source Assam Tribune by Sivasish Thakur