The painful image of the elephant, Sidda, lying on his side or struggling to stand up after getting injured in the leg, haunts many people. He had fallen into a ditch in a village near Bengaluru after straying from the forest and has suffered agony for many weeks. He has been helped to stand up now but may need many more weeks of nursing and support. Many other elephants have also left the forest in the past looking for food and water, sometimes to be attacked and hounded by villagers. It is because the elephant cannot find food in the forest and its habitat has changed, that it strays into villages. But it is taken to be an intruder and a destroyer of crops. Man-animal conflict, in which the animal is always the loser, has gone on for decades, but it has now reached a stage where many animals may not survive unless we concede them their space and their right to life.
As Sidda was struggling, an international convention on Asian elephants was being held in Guwahati. Experts from many countries discussed ways and means for management and preservation of Asia’s elephants, most of which are in India, and formed an action plan to prevent their extinction. Extinction of the magnificent animal cannot be ruled out with just over 30,000 of them left in the country and about 100 being killed every year. The best plan is to leave the elephants in their habitats and ensure that these spaces are preserved and kept unfragmented. Forests should not be encroached upon and degraded and poaching should be stopped. The serious threat from poaching is clear from the fact that there is only one male elephant for every 100 females in the country. Elephants are wild animals which live in herds and there is no natural reason to bring them to the human environment. Separating an elephant from the herd is actually traumatic for the animal. They will not mess with our lives and crops if they are left alone.
Elephants have a big role in our history, religion, traditions, arts and literature and even in our daily lives. They have fought wars for us, carried our gods on their backs, lugged our heavy things and entertained us. We are fascinated by them and admire them as they are a great visual treat. The elephant is even god, the most auspicious and liberal one in the pantheon. But we have mistreated it and used it for our needs and purposes. It has been pushed to the brink now, as Sidda was. We should not let it go down.