Standing at over 2.5 m tall and weighing over four tonnes, the Asian elephant can proudly boast of being one of the most majestic creatures on earth. Also referred to as ‘Ganesh’ (the son of lord Shiva) and revered in Hindu mythology, the elephant can be found across the length and breadth of the country, from homes and temple courtyards to forests and sanctuaries.
However, the number of elephants has been on the decline in the past few decades in India. According to the 2017 Elephant Census, there were only about 27,000 elephants in the country—a drop of 3,000 from 2012. Clearly, there is an urgent need to raise awareness on the issue of elephant conservation in India.
And that’s what the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), a nature conservation organisation, aims to do with its four-day event called Gaj Mahotsav. Ongoing till August 15 in the national capital at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Arts, the festival’s motive is to generate more awareness about India’s heritage animal.
Gaj Mahotsav, which will be open to the public, will see dance and music performances by artistes such as Mallika Sarabhai and Astad Deboo; films and talks by filmmakers Mike Pandey and Krishnendu Bose; and an exhibition of elephant-themed art and photographs curated by Ina Puri and Alka Pande. In addition, there will be various workshops for children on storytelling and painting, a shadow puppet workshop by Dadi Pudumjee, and a cartooning workshop as well by Rohan Chakravarthy. Plus, for the festival, artistes from across the country have created 101 life-sized elephant artworks, representing the 101 elephant corridors of India.
The festival—for which the WTI has joined hands with the ministry of environment, forest and climate change; the International Fund For Animal Welfare; and United Nations Environment—will see the participation of many policymakers and stakeholders as well.
Considering the rampant speed at which elephants are being killed in the country, mainly for their tusks, such efforts become all the more important to conserve the species. Another pressing issue is the rapid deterioration of their natural habitat: forests. “You can see how elephants have declined, while human population has increased exponentially, putting pressure on the habitat the animal is supposed to occupy and use.
Elephants are keystone species, also known as architects of the forest. If you take away elephants from an ecosystem, it will collapse because a lot of other flora and fauna are dependent on them,” says Vivek Menon, executive director and CEO, WTI, adding, “The Gaj Mahotsav is part of the WTI’s right of passage project. It works towards securing 101 corridors for elephants in India. Gaj Mahotsav complements the project to gather support for the cause from policymakers, media houses and other key stakeholders.”
But can such an event actually change people’s perception towards animal conservation? Menon is optimistic, saying it’s this optimism that’s the driving force behind the festival. “The key aim of the campaign is to move policymakers, media and the general masses, draw their attention to the cause and gather support,” he adds.