India was home to 26,000 elephants till last week. Now, there are 7 less. The massacre of elephants in West Bengal last week was tragic not only for the loss of pachyderm lives, but also as an indicator of how India has mismanaged some of its most irreplaceable ecosystems.
Elephant death by overspending trains is not new. In the 15 years till 2002, the Rajah National Park lost nearly 20 elephants to train accidents. It’s now a thing of the past thanks to a well-designed and implemented plan. Elephants in other parts of India aren’t so lucky. Some conservationists believe that as trains covert from meter to broad gauge, more trains run on the tracks. The elephants, fascinatingly, are accustomed to specific trains, and avoided them. As rail traffic increases, they get confused, and more accidents take place. Besides, trains over-speed.
What do we do about this mess? The recently concluded Elephant Task Force, of the ministry of environment has several recommendations. I won’t list them, but all of us should push the government to implement at least two of them fast — a new elephant governance system and funds to implement it.
Think, but also act
If you feel cynical about pushing the government for elephants, learn from the turn of events in California. Till three years ago, 50 per cent of the artificial jewelery in the market exceeded the permitted levels of lead, posioning children. After legislation, brought about by activism and advocacy, only 5 per cent still exceeds it. The change was brought about in part by public outrage and in part, by legal change. It is not important whether or not India is a law abiding country — what matters is how much each of us contributes to making it one.