THE CROAK is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial.

Worshipping Nature: Protecting Life

      Three years ago, eCoexist started a new campaign called Gajanana, with an intention to connect the Ganesh Chaturthi festival with the cause of conserving wild Asian elephants. Sri Ganesha is half elephant and half human. With the growth of the human communities, and the death of elephants, it feels as though we have been neglecting one aspect of our worship, which is to take care of his elephant form too. 

In 2017, eCoexist raised Rs 80000 for WRCS , an NGO that works in Karnataka to help mitigate Human Elephant conflict through this campaign. Last year we raised another 80000 for the Assam Haathi Project which was used to teach the locals to create their own documentary films about the elephants they live with. 

The Gajanana Campaign

While the African elephant increases in population, its Asian counterpart has not been so fortunate. There are several reasons for this , but in general  it is the conflict between humanity and elephants that causes fatalities on both sides. 

In India, 80 percent of elephant distribution is outside protected areas (PAs) and human-elephant conflicts (HEC) are common.  29964 elephants in the country have been documented. The main threats to Asian elephants today are changes to their habitat because of an expanding human population and the conflicts between the two species.  Reservoirs, hydroelectric projects and associated canals, irrigation dams, numerous pockets of cultivation and plantations, highways, railway lines, mining and industrial development , all contribute to the pressure on the elephant territories.

According to the official data, during 2016-17 to 2018-19, 314 elephants were killed. Of these, 206 were due to electrocution, 60 due to train accidents, 21 due to poisoning and 27 elephants died due to poaching. During the same period, the conflict led to the death of 1,474 people. (Wikipedia)

Is it possible for the two species to coexist? In a country like India , where elephants are said to be revered, can we protect this beautiful mammal by protecting its habitat and food corridors?

The symbolism of the elephant
By Unknown author -, Public Domain,

Basohli miniature, circa 1730. By Unknown author -, Public Domain,

While there are many myths that explain how Ganesh came to acquire an elephant head, there are also many interpretations to what the elephant symbolises. Humanity has always looked to Nature to learn from other species and integrate these into its own life. The grace of an elephants movements, its unfailing memory, its gentleness with its young and loyalty to those it loves are all virtues that we admire and aspire to as humans.
Gaja (गज), a Sanskrit word for elephant, is one of the significant animals finding references in Hindu scriptures and Buddhist and Jain texts. In general, a gaja personifies a number of positive attributes, including abundance, fertility and richness; boldness and strength; and wisdom and royalty.
The elephant came to hold an esteemed position in ancient India because its domestication brought power to kinds and their armies. Did you know that elephants are mentioned in many ancient scriptures such as  the Brihat Samhita, Arthashastra, Manasollasa and Gaja Shastra. The Gajachikitsa deals entirely with the healthcare of elephants and the Mathangaleela with sports involving them. 
A keystone species
In Nature, an elephant plays an important role in the ecosystem and in maintaining the balance. It is considered a 'keystone'species because its presence enables the sustenance of many others lower in the food chain. The dung of the elephant assists in the dispersal and germination of several plant species. The movement of elephant populations through the forests helps in creating corridors by thinning vegetation. Its strong smell helps locate under ground water reserves. 
This mega herbivore plays an important role in shaping the terrestrial ecosystem which is its habitat. This is why conserving wild elephant populations is crucial to the health of our forests in the future. 
One of the projects that has focussed on wild elephant conservation in Assam is the Assam Haathi Project. 
Assam Haathi Project
The Assam Haathi Project (AHP) began in 2004 as a collaboration between Chester Zoo (UK) and EcoSystems-India. They also work with the State Forest Department, Government of Assam and local conservation organizations.  It aims to empower the local communities to take responsibility for deterring elephants from causing damage to their property and crops and create a sustainable co-existence for people and elephants. Whilst also monitoring elephant movements to understand more about their distribution and patterns in order to protect elephants long term. It is based in Assam, North East India and operate in two districts: Sontipur & Goalpara.

Nandita Hazarika is an energy-environment consultant based in Guwahati. She is associated with EcoSystems-India, a trust for biodiversity and environment conservation in Assam as its founder-member. She manages the Assam Haathi Project on human-elephant conflict mitigation. Her work experience of over two decades has focussed on research on energy and environment issues, and community-based initiatives related to wildlife conservation, ecotourism, renewable energy, alternative livelihoods and environment education. She was a Hubert Humphrey Fellow (2001-2002) under the Fulbright Programme at University of Washington, Seattle.

Watch Nandita speak about their efforts in the video below ( click here)

Read more about the Gajanana campaign here

The Gajanana campaign aims to inspire Ganesh devotees to worship the living form of Ganesha - the elephants - by contributing to their care in the wild. We invite you to set aside a portion of your annual budget for the Ganesh festival and send it to the Gajanana campaign on Ketto. Click on the link given below...

We sincerely urge you to contribute... 

Donate here
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The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
If you would like to contribute articles on ecology consciousness and sustainability please get in touch with us.

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