Leading wildlife conservation NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) announced the Mumbai launch of the Gaj Yatra, a campaign that aims to raise awareness about the shrinking space for India’s wild elephants and the importance of securing elephant corridors. The campaign was launched at the revered Shri Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai by WTI Brand Ambassador Ms Dia Mirza, the Union Minister for Railways Shri Suresh Prabhu and WTI Executive Director & CEO Mr Vivek Menon.
The Gaj Yatra, which is partnered by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), is the biggest event ever planned around India’s wild elephants. It will take the form of a roadshow that will move through 12 elephant range states over the next 15 months, with elephant-sized artworks created by local artists and craftsmen as the centerpiece. Gaj Mahotsavs will be organized at different venues along the way, with concerts, parades, street plays and activities for children in particular.
India has about 30,000 wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus); over 50% of the species’ estimated global population. Yet the growing resource needs of India’s human population have led to the destruction and fragmentation of wild habitats across the country, depleting the area available for elephants to roam and causing the loss of their traditional migratory paths. Elephant corridors are vital natural habitat linkages that enable elephants and other wildlife to move through the degraded habitats lying between larger protected forests freely, without being disturbed by humans.
With Asian elephants now occupying a meagre 3.5 percent of their historical range, securing these corridors has become a conservation imperative. Wildlife Trust of India has been working with the Government of India’s Project Elephant, state forest departments, and national and global NGOs to secure and protect India’s 101 identified and mapped elephant corridors for over a decade through its Right of Passage project. It is hoped that the Gaj Yatra will help raise awareness about the plight of India’s National Heritage Animal, and build a groundswell of popular support for the securing of elephant corridors.
“I hope that the Gaj Yatra will capture the country’s imagination, inspiring celebrities, corporate India and people in general to come together and help India’s wild elephants”, said WTI Brand Ambassador Dia Mirza.
The Gaj Yatra launch ceremony commenced with WTI CEO Mr Vivek Menon speaking about the Right of Passage project and the urgent need to secure elephant corridors. “That we launch the Gaj Yatra from this venue”, he said furthermore, “is especially fitting. Not only because it is extremely auspicious, but because India has shown something of a divided soul when it comes to its elephants. We worship them and proclaim them our National Heritage Animal on the one hand, yet destroy their wild habitats on the other, imperiling their very survival. It is heartening as a conservationist to see so many political, corporate, social and cultural influencers come together and pledge their support for elephants and elephant corridors. I hope that as the Gaj Yatra rolls along over the next 15 months, taking the Gajah to the Prajah, it will inspire involvement and action from the public and policymakers, and help mobilise resources to conserve elephants and give them Right of Passage.”
Shri Suresh Prabhu, Mr Vivek Menon and Dia Mirza formally launched the Gaj Yatra with the unveiling of an elephant art installation made up of used consumer electronics components, created by artist Dilip More and curated by Dr Alka Pande.
“We must understand that our own existence is impossible without our wildlife and wild lands”, said the Hon’ble Union Railway Minister. “Elephants need to migrate over long distances and corridors are a must. This is a cause I will take a personal interest in.”
The assembled Champions of Nature delivered their messages of support, urging people at large to “Join Our Herd and help secure Right of Passage for India’s elephants.”
Dia Mirza then delivered the vote of thanks. “As a Wildlife Trust of India ambassador it is a matter of great pride for me to be launching and participating in this campaign, the beginnings of which were made when we organised a meeting of industry professionals who have been designated Champions of Nature”, she said.
“The launch of the Gaj Yatra in this city, and at this particular venue, has great meaning. Both the city of Mumbai and this famous temple bring together people from all walks of life. Each one of these people has the capacity to be a Champion of Nature in his or her own way. For the Gaj Yatra to succeed it must be a people’s movement. I hope that over the next 15 months it will capture the country’s imagination, inspiring celebrities, corporate India and people in general to come together and help secure 101 corridors for India’s wild elephants.”