There is a saying that one can never stop being fascinated by elephants and the sea.
Keralites have an enduring association with elephants. No festival is complete without its customary presence. A highlight of the glorious 'Thrissur Pooram' is the pageant of caparisoned elephants.
Unfortunately, elephants are still being hunted down, run over by trains or badly treated by people who own them. The number of African as well as Asian elephants are diminishing at an alarming rate and hence the significance of Elephant Day, observed every year on August 12 to raise awareness about their plight.
Week-long programmes are being arranged by over 100 wildlife organisations all over the world to spread a word on the lives of the giant animal.
Even though the elephant is honoured as the official animal of Kerala State, they are ill-treated by untrained mahouts and improper treatment causes death. They are also prone to poaching and accidents in forests bordering the State.
Facts and figures
» In 2012 Canadian filmmaker Patricia Sims and her organisation Elephant Reintroduction Foundation had come up with a dedicated day for the largest land animal.
» The African and Asian elephants are in the vulnerable and endangered Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). They may move into the Extinct List within 12 years.
» The population of Asian and African elephants are 50,000 and 415,000 respectively, says the World Wide Fund for Nature.
» The number of elephants in India is fewer than 20,000, but it was a million a century ago!
A matter of huge concern
“World Elephant Day is a rallying call for people to support organisations that are working to stop the illegal poaching and trade of elephant ivory and other wildlife products, protect wild elephant habitat, and provide sanctuaries and alternative habitats for domestic elephants to live freely”, says Patricia Sims on the official website of World Elephant Day.
This intelligent mammal plays a vital role in the ecosystem. They help in dispersing seeds, creating new paths and providing food and shelter to small organisms. As they lose their habitat due to human interference, they travel to other areas including farmlands. This leads to constant conflict between humans and elephants.
Why 16 elephants took a long march
The recent strange voyage of 16 elephants in China had attracted the attention of world. After a 1,300 km march from Xishuangbanna along the cities of Yuxi, Honghe and Kunming, the herd is finally heading south to their protected habitat. They started the journey in March last year and eventually settled in a protected habitat near the city of Pu'er in southern Yunnan Province.
An emergency committee was set up in the country to track their journey, provide them food and protect people in respective areas.
Even though the current population of Asian elephants is decreasing, there has been a doubling in the count of wild elephants in Xishuangbanna since 1978. The peculiar exodus is, however, blamed on damage to their natural habitat.
Significance in Kerala
Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) is a protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Several elephants undergo hardships especially during the festival season in Kerala. Animal lovers and activists have highlighted their misery, thus forcing the intervention of the judiciary in a bid to improve their lot. Successive governments are unable to take a stern stand, fearing the adverse response of certain groups which cite the necessity of traditional customary practices.
In 2019 a ban on partially blind 'Thechikottukavu Ramachandran' created an uproar in the state. The tallest living tusker of India has a history of killing 13 people and three other elephants during various festivals of Kerala. But Ramachandran later qualified a fitness test to flag off 'Thrissur Pooram'.