Closely associated with the religion and culture of the country, the elephant would soon be declared a national heritage animal as a step up measure for its protection, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said today.
"We will soon declare elephant as a national heritage animal as they have been part of our heritage since ages. We need to give same degree of importance to elephant as is given to tiger in order to protect the big animal," Ramesh told reporters here.
Last October, the government had declared the river dolphin as the "national aquatic animal" which represents the health of the rivers, particularly the Ganga.
Ramesh also said Wildlife (Protection) Act would also be amended to pave way for setting up of National Elephants Conservation Authority (NECA) on the lines of the NTCA that has been constituted for the tiger conservation, as suggested by a panel. "We will introduce it (amendment) in the winter session of Parliament," Ramesh said underlining the urgency to protect the jumbos in the country before they could go the tiger ways whose count stand just around 1,411.
Set up by the ministry a few months back, Elephant Task Force which submitted its report "Securing the Future for Elephants in India" today to the union minister also pointed out that "India should protect its elephant population by creating new reserves... "...curbing poaching and restricting development in the corridors they use to travel between forested areas."
Concerned at the plight of the captive elephants in the temples as pointed out by the panel, Ramesh immediately directed his officials to frame a set of guidelines for the animal's welfare to be implemented by the temple authorities. The 12-member panel said that there were over 25,000 elephants in the country, including 3,500 in captivity in zoos and temples, particularly in southern and north-eastern parts of the country.
The panel which lays out a comprehensive action agenda for protection the pachyderms attributed poaching for ivory and increased conflicts between people and elephants for their dwindling habitat. The report's lead author, Mahesh Rangarajan, noted that elephants have not received the same attention as tigers and other endangered wildlife, partly because their rate of decline has not been as dramatic. "But they do need attention," he said.