Experts on elephants from Southeast Asia came together in a panel discussion organized by Aaranyak on the occasion of the World Elephant Day.

Aaranyak conducted the panel discussion in its series of “Eco Talk”, titled “Elephants in the Room”.

The panelists delved into various issues of elephant conservation through interactive discussion.

The session was moderated by Udayan Borthakur, head, media production and communication division, Aaranyak, a leading wildlife NGO based in Guwahati.

Dr. Christy Williams, regional director, Asia-Pacific, WWF International; Dr. Sanjay Gubbi, scientist, Nature Conservation Foundation; Dr. Bibhuti Prasad Lahkar, scientist & head, elephant research & conservation division, Aaranyak and Kaushik Barua, founder, Assam Elephant Foundation were present as the panelists.

Dr. Williams talked about how various factors such as habitat loss, anthropogenic disturbances,

habitat fragmentation, access to nutritious food like cultivated crops & its consequence on

breeding, behavioural aspect of elephants are responsible for human-elephant conflict.

Stating that not all elephants are crop-raiders, he spoke on how this behaviour is inculcated due to various factors.

He said with burgeoning human population in India and the shrinking habitats are intensifying the human-elephant conflict.

Dr Williams said unfortunately, we do not have a conservation model that works for Asian elephants.

To this, Kaushik Barua said, “We need to address the issue of shrinking elephant habitats, or else the magnitude of the problem will be much bigger in the future. Securing habitats is a multi-dimensional approach that needs resources and political will.”

He also echoed the views of Dr. Williams on crop-raiding elephants and stressed the need of securing elephant habitats.

Dr. Gubbi spoke on how ignoring science and the need for elephants, mismanaging, or modifying elephant habitats in the past have led to the intensification of the human-elephant conflict.

Citing an example from South India, Dr. Gubbi spoke on how the human-induced interventions have increased the resource availability and affected the movement of the elephants.

Dr. Lahkar said, “We need to protect the elephant and their habitat. We must appreciate the conservation value of animals and need to pay attention to this national heritage animal.”

Flagging the issue of compensation for human-elephant conflict, all the panellists unanimously agreed that the process of claiming compensation is cumbersome, lengthy and includes a lot of paperwork.

Dr. Barua said the process needs to be streamlined to improve the situation in Assam.

Dr. Lahkar mentioned that people tend to lose faith as the process is time-consuming. And sometimes there is a lack of cooperation from civil administration too, Aaranyak said in a statement.

He appreciated the ‘Maharashtra model’ where compensation is disbursed in a very short span of time and requested that other states can adopt similar models.

With the use of technology, an understanding of the issue, and commitment, the compensation process can be facilitated, said Dr. Gubbi.

He added that proactive outreach measures will go a long way in mitigating the human-elephant conflict rather than compensation.

Dr. Williams said, “We need to look at the issue from a human angle and invest there to facilitate human-elephant coexistence.”

Another emerging issue is the deliberate electrocution of elephants. Electrocuting elephants is an easy way out to retaliate, Dr. Lahkar pointed out.

He further said active cooperation from all the line departments is required to address the issue.

The participants in the panel discussion posed several questions to the panellists, which were aptly answered, the organisers said.

The panellists said the need of the hour is political will, securing elephant habitats, and invest in more human-angle research for addressing elephant conservation.

In addition to the panel discussion, an online art competition was also organised by Aaranyak for the students to mark World Elephant Day, which is observed annually on August 12.

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