Charles in fund ‘racer’ for Assam jumbo corridor (India)


Susmita Mukherjee,Times of India

Date Published

Guwahati: A fleet of 40 aesthetically designed auto-rickshaws will be racing through Madhya Pradesh in November this year to raise funds for a critical elephant corridor in Assam. Elephant Family, a charity set up by the late Mark Shand, writer and elephant lover, and brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is organizing this colourful rally as part of the fundraiser, ‘Travels to my Elephant’, which has already seen 20 remodelled and painted auto-rickshaws going under the hammer in London recently at a wildlife auction by Prince Charles and Camilla, that helped raise 7,00,000 pounds. Elephant Family is targeting a total of 1m pounds to secure a safe passage for the endangered pachyderm in Assam.

Headed jointly by Prince Charles and his wife, the Elephant Family aims to secure 100 corridors for elephants in India, including Jharkhand and Odisha, in the next 10 years along with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). The Tirunelli-Kudrakote corridor in Kerala has already been secured by them and in Assam they are looking at securing the Kalapahar-Daigurung corridor linking Kalahapar USF (Nambor west block) of East Karbi Anglong division with Daigurung and Nambor Wildlife Sanctuary (Nambor north block in Golaghat district).

Sandeep Tiwari, deputy director and head, Wild Lands, Wildlife Trust of India, which is securing the corridor for Elephant Family with the help of Project Elephant, ministry of environment, forests and climate change and the state government, said, “Elephants move to the Kaziranga National Park from the Nambor-Daigurung wildlife sanctuary via the Kaliani reserve forest after crossing the corridor near Ram Terang and Tokolangso villages.”

This will necessitate the shifting of the villages of Ram Terang and Tokolangso. “The rehabilitation of the villagers involves huge expenditure. We will be looking into the possibility of securing more corridors in Assam after the maiden project in the state.” Tiwari added that they would also try to secure the legal protection of these corridors and ensure they are not encroached upon thereby leading to further encounters and casualties.

“Man-animal conflict is a major concern in the state with Sonitpur and Golaghat districts recording the largest number of encounters,” said Tiwari. Awareness programmes will be taken up by WTI and the Elephant Family to sensitize villagers on such conflicts and corridors in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape. Prince Charles described the corridor campaign at the London auction as an “enormously important cause because of its human-animal dimension”.

The 500-km rally at Madhya Pradesh ending at Kipling Camp, a private wildlife camp near Kanha, will have participants from London with each team pledging to raise around 10,000 pounds. Kamillah Ismail of Elephant Family said over email from London, “Mark fell in love with the Asian elephant when he was travelling in India in 1988 with his elephant Tara. Their journey led to his best-selling book, ‘Travels on my Elephant’, which has been the inspiration behind Travels to my Elephant.”

As an animal lover, Mark was concerned about the massive habitat loss of elephants resulting in their numbers plummeting to dangerous levels. He devoted much of his time to save the animal from extinction till his death last year in New York. His beloved Tara, though ageing, now resides in Kipling Camp, the point where the rally ends.

Kamillah said the choice of the auto-rickshaw as the centerpiece of the rally was decided by its iconic appeal. “It is an Indian mode of transport and for practical reasons pedal rickshaws are difficult,” said Kamillah, adding that they are trying to rope in Indian designers to give the vehicles a makeover. “We are also trying to shortlist artists from Assam,” she said.