Ever wonder what elephants think of us humans? Wildlife biologist and artist Arjun Srivathsa brings together science and art, with a big dose of humour, to tell this very elephantine tale aimed at increasing awareness of wildlife conservation.
Arjun Srivathsa is a 26-year-old alumnus of the graduate program in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru. He has combined his love for art with his scientific temper to create a fascinating cartoon series called Pocket Science India, the first of which we bring you in this Photo Story.
“Pocket Science India is a venture to combine wildlife science with art, to promote conservation awareness in India. The cartoons or cartoon-series are mostly information from scientific journal articles (which are either inaccessible to people or rather complicated to understand), translated into art panels. The idea is to bridge the gaps between the work Indian wildlife scientists are doing and the non-scientific audience, with a touch of humour,” says Arjun.
Here’s his take on the dwindling population of elephants in the country:
Of course, elephants are magnificent animals. They are probably among the first bunch of animals we all learnt to identify, draw and admire as children. The elephant is greatly celebrated in India, with its association with the gods and everything. But elephants are in trouble today. It is time to address the proverbial ‘elephant in the room’.
We have a tendency to think that animals belong to the forest and people belong to villages, towns and cities. The reality is quite different. Animals know no boundaries and the forests in India are not free of people. So, we are bound to run into each other once in a while!
And certainly, when big animals such as elephants run into farms, find delicious crops, they eat. And even if they aren’t eating, but just crossing through a farmland, they end up damaging a large chunk of the crops. This is what we call conflict.
Recently, scientists studied how and where conflicts with elephants occur. They found that these animals follow the rainfall pattern, probably aware that better rainfall means successful crop growth. That is just fascinating!
Although we are at heavy losses because of conflict with elephants, we haven’t been particularly good neighbors either. Elephants travel large distances, migrating seasonally. Most of their historic migratory routes are now replaced by our roads, towns and cities.
As if this wasn’t enough, we have been killing elephants on railway tracks in certain crucial forest corridors. And this continues to happen even today with little or no regulation in place. We are definitely not on the right track!
In this context, there are two studies in India that have recently tried to understand the fate of elephants outside protected forest areas and also to try and find ways to conserve them. One in the Garo Hills of Northeast India and the other in the Anamalais of Western Ghats.
Even though elephants are found outside protected forests, their survival in these areas is very tricky. Research in the Garo Hills showed that although elephants were found both inside and outside protected forests, they preferred areas inside forests. So, protected forests are still very very important for elephants to survive.
Down south in the Valparai plateau, at the edge of Anamalai Tiger Reserve there are elephant herds that are frequently running among people. This area has a lot of coffee and tea plantations. The elephants prefer to use the forest areas, but they are also often found in the coffee and tea estates.
This is not a case of animals “straying” like we generally tend to call it. These elephants have made the coffee and tea estates their own. It is a part of their landscape. But unfortunately, this is stressful, both, for the elephants as well as for the people living there.
To deal with frequent encounters of people and elephants, conservation scientists in Valparai devised an innovative solution. They installed warning lights on big buildings and set up an SMS service system. Local people register their mobile phone numbers, and, send and receive SMS alerts about elephant locations! How cool is that! This could reduce the accidental encounters between people and elephants, therefore lesser conflict, therefore easier life for both people and elephants!
Elephants are beautiful, intelligent animals. They cannot be confined to the remaining little patches of forests. They will continue to come out, and run into people. The way to conserve them is to find innovative solutions, like in the case of Valparai, and make the areas outside forest less hostile. Let us try and make room for the gentle giants
Interview by Parikshit Suryavanshi
About the author:
Parikshit Suryavanshi is a freelance interviewer, writer and translator based in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. You can visit his
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