On its Last Legs

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 40 No. 8, August 2020

By Bittu Sahgal

This is not a circus elephant being forced to perform tricks for paying customers. Not by far. It is, nevertheless, an elephant, wild as wild can be, forced to perform tricks to survive.

For over 50 million years, the ancestors of Elephas maximus indicus migrated from home to distant home in search of food and water, following mental maps passed on from parent to child.

This hungry pachyderm was caught deftly avoiding the electric wires installed to prevent it from accessing aromatic guava fruit from an orchard in the Nelliyampathy Hills, Palakkad, Kerala, in what was once the elephants’ home. The 333 elephants that died of electrocution in India between 2014 and 2019 were not so lucky (see page 67).

Elephants live in family units and young ones are cared for by adults. Even in times of stress, such bonds ensure that herds are guided to the food and water they must consume daily to stay alive. But such elephant imperatives seem to cut little ice with Homo sapiens. Our dams, mines, high tension wires, highways, fences, brutally laid killer spikes and even tar fireballs are only a part of our arsenal against elephants.

All this in the land of Ganesh, Ganapati or Vinayaka, as the elephant god is known across India. One of the most widely venerated deities in the pantheon of Hindu gods, I cannot for the world of me understand why millions of us, who truly love and worship elephants, remain quiet when we know the species is literally on its last legs.

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