NEWS & CALENDAR OF EVENTS
News & Calendar of Events:
Mr Ajay Desai completed his schooling in Belgaum and his post-graduation in Marine biology from Karnataka University. He started his career with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) as a researcher and went on to spend many years focusing on studying elephant herding and track formation across the Indian reserves of Mudumalai TR and Sri Lanka.
Ajay Desai, former Co-Chair IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group was a member of the Steering Committee of India’s Project Elephant (2005 – 2012), member of the Project Elephant Task Force in 2010, member of the Task Force set up by the Karnataka High Court to advise on the Conservation of Elephants, Management of Human – Elephant Conflict from 2011 – 2013 and was currently part of a Supreme Court-constituted committee to study and prepare a report on Sigur elephant corridor, Southern India. Apart from India, he has worked on elephants and other large mammal conservation and on training field officers in Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia. He has also been a consultant for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in several countries, United Nations (UN) / Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), Fauna & Flora International, various state Forest Departments and the Bombay Natural History Society. Till his last day, he worked as consultant for WWF-India. He was also a member of the Karnataka State Wildlife Advisory Board and IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group.
AsESG members deeply mourn his passing and express their deep and heartfelt condolences to the sorrowing family and joins in their prayers.
Attending government representatives of the 130 member parties to CMS COP13 accepted by consensus the proposal by host country India to list the mainland Asian elephant on Appendix I – affording it the highest protection possible.
IUCN Asian Elephant Species Specialist Group (AsESG) assisted the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in drafting this proposal.
Listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the challenges confronting Asian elephant conservation in most elephant range countries are habitat loss and fragmentation, human–elephant conflict, poaching for ivory and other products, such as skin and illegal trade of live elephants. Loss and fragmentation of habitat is perhaps the most important factor impacting elephant populations in most range countries. The spread of human settlements, plantations, industry, farming, mining and linear infrastructures (roads, railway lines, irrigation canals, power lines, pipelines) have squeezed extant elephant populations into ever-decreasing pockets of forests and have blocked traditional migratory routes leading to intense conflicts between people and elephants, causing fatalities on both sides besides damage to human property. More than 600 humans and 450 elephant death reported every year in Asia. In India alone, around 400-450 people lose their lives due to human elephant conflict and around 100 elephants are killed in retaliation to the damage they cause to human life and property.
India also announced its intention to work with other Asian elephant range states to form a regional agreement with collective actions to safeguard the iconic animal. “This listing corrects a historic oversight and gives the Asian Elephants its long deserving protected status. It’s a big win for the Asian Elephants! For the first time, range country governments accepted listing of the Asian Elephant on CMS Appendix-I” emphasized Vivek Menon, Chair of ASESG and Executive Director and CEO, Wildlife Trust of India. While India is home to 60% of Asian elephants, some of these animals regularly cross borders into neighbouring states, such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal. Several of these small transboundary populations are critical if the species is to survive in states beyond India.
Although many Asian countries are not members of CMS, regional agreements with collective actions can include CMS member and non-member states, and the hope is that many Asian elephant range states will now work more closely together to protect this species.
- Mr Noyal Thomas, IGF and Director Project Elephant, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Government of India spoke on Conservation of elephants across borders- Successes and challenges: Indian experience)
- Mr Vivek Menon, Chair IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group & Executive Director & CEO Wildlife Trust of India spoke on Transboundary movement of elephants in South Asia.
- Mr. Raquibul Amin, Country Representative, IUCN Bangladesh & Ms. Andrea Dekrout, Programme Management Officer, CMS Secretariat spoke on Co-existence of elephants and people in Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh.
- Mr Sonam Wangdi, Chief Forestry Officer, Nature Conservation Division, Department of Forests and Park Services, Bhutan spoke on Transboundary conservation through Indo-Bhutan Peace Parks
All the representatives stressed upon the need for intergovernmental collaboration to ensure protection to elephants that move across these landscapes. Mr Noyal Thomas informed on the threats to elephant conservation in India and the initiatives undertaken by India to conserve the species. He informed that India is working with the Government of Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal on transboundary conservation of the species. Mr Vivek Menon, Chair AsESG and Executive Director, WTI hailed the Government of India’s proposal to declare Asian elephant as a migratory species and urged all parties to CMS to support the pledge. He also emphasized on the need of minimizing conflict and securing migratory passages. Mr Raquibul Amin suggested taking lesson from Bangladesh where sudden and massive trans-border movement of displaced human population from Myanmar triggered both humanitarian and environmental crisis including severe human-elephant conflict. Such mass displacement is more likely to happen due to climate change and conflict. Conservation organizations should actively partner with humanitarian sector to plan and build each other capacity to tackle conservation issues during humanitarian operations. Andrea from UNHCR also supported the idea. Mr Sonam Wangdi spoke about transboundary protected areas and Peace Park initiatives by the Government of Bhutan and India that would significantly help in habitat and species conservation.
A second side event on Asian Elephant Conservation: prospects and Challenges was organized on 20th February 2020. This was organized in the India Pavilion by Project Elephant Division, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change along with Asian Elephant Specialist Group (AsESG) and the Wildlife Institute of India.
Mr Noyal Thomas, IGF and Director Project Elephant, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Government of India explain the status of elephants and conservation challenges in India and highlighted habitat fragmentation and human-elephant conflict as a major challenge. He outlined the conservation initiatives undertak en by India to conserve elephants and its habitat including securing corridors, habitat management and transboundary cooperation.
Dr Sandeep Kr Tiwari, Program Manager, IUCN SSC AsESG spoke on the global status of Asian Elephants, threats and the role of AsESG in assisting the conservation initiatives by the Range States. Although Habitat loss and fragmentation and increased human-elephant conflict is a major threat across range states, the illegal killing of elephants for ivory and skin trade is another major concern in few South East Asian Range States.
Mr Gobinda Roy, Deputy Chief Conservator of Forest, Bangladesh informed that the influx of Rohingya refugees and their rehabilitation in Bangladesh has created a huge challenge for human and wildlife. About 8000 acres of prime elephant habitat in Cox-bazar has been used to rehabilitate the refugees from Myanmar that includes two key identified elephant corridors. This has severely impacting the habitat and has increased human-elephant conflict. Dr Tharaka, Director DWS, Sri Lanka informed that Sri Lanka has about 6000 elephants and human elephant conflict is a major concern. On an average about 250 elephants and 70-80 human death by elephants reported every year. Cause of elephant mortality are gun-shot injuries, eexplosive device called “hakkapatas”, poisoning and train accident. He also briefed on the conservation initiatives of the DWS.
Mr Matthew Collis, Director International Policy, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) spoke about the importance of having Asian elephants in CMS. Emphasizing the need to facilitate movement, he briefed how IFAW-WTI has been working to identify and secure elephant corridors in India. He also spoke on the need of according legal protection to corridors and also hopes that many Asian elephant range states will now work more closely together to protect this species.
The group discussed on threats and challenges impacting the conservation of Asian elephants and the various guidelines and plans being drafted by the Group and Range countries for the conservation and welfare of elephants in wild and in captivity. The inaugural session was addressed by Dato. Abdul Kadir bin Abu Hashim, Director General of Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Peninsular Malaysia. While addressing the members, he expects that the decisions from this meeting are implemented on ground in Sabah. In Malaysia, we are serious about the poaching issue and want to mitigate this problem and increase the population of wildlife. Mr Vivek Menon, Chairperson Asian Elephant Specialist Group presented the report of the Group in last one year, its impact of the species and the threats impacting elephant conservation and management in Asia. Mr Menon informed that he hopes this meeting helps us come up with solutions to make the life of Asian elephants a little better. Mr Augustine Tuuga while addressing the meeting said that they are happy to be chosen as the joint host for this meeting. We hope that during this meeting, we can enhance the conservation action plan and get inputs from the participants towards the challenges we are facing.
The meeting is being attended by over 130 AsESG and Ex-officio members, partner organisations as well as elephant experts from across the globe and local conservationist.
Apart from the various guidelines and plans being produced by the Group, the meeting will also discuss the elephant conservation issues in Sabah and will be organising a dedicated session. The meeting has also provided a forum for the emerging professionals who are not part of AsESG to present their work and also be part of the workshop on various issues and also consult AsESG experts.
Poaching is a major threat to elephants in Asia, although reliable estimates of the number of elephants killed and the quantities of ivory and other body parts collected and traded are scarce. It was traditionally believed that poaching is a relatively minor threat to Asian elephant because some males and all females lack tusks but in reality Asian elephants are poached not only for ivory but for a variety of other products (including meat and skin), and poaching is acknowledged as a threat to the long-term survival of some Asian elephant populations. In recent decades, selective poaching of tuskers for ivory has progressively skewed the sex ratio in several Asian elephant populations. This affects the genetic variation in such populations and may result in interbreeding impacting population. Large-scale hunting of elephants for ivory, bush meat, skin and other products has reduced their populations significantly over a wide area in some countries. The emerging trade of skin in southeast Asia in recent years is a major concern. Although the trade of elephant skin has been going on for over a decade but since 2014, there has been increase in poaching and trade /sales with main source of elephant skin being Myanmar and the products (beads / pendants, skin pieces, powder) are traded in nearby countries in southeast Asia (Elephant Family, 2018 and 2019). The trade could result in indiscriminate killing of elephants of both sexes threating fragile elephant population in the region.
The event was addressed by the following eminent speakers and the discussion moderated by Mr Matthew Collis, Director International Policy, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Issues ranging from poaching and illegal killing of elephants for ivory, elephant skin trade, live elephant trade, enforcement efforts undertaken in different range states as well as the overall illegal wildlife scenario was discussed at the conference. A large number of professionals from various organization, Institutes and Range countries attended the conference.
- Mr M S Negi, Addl. Director General of Forest (WL), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India: India’s Initiatives for Preventing Illegal Trade in Elephant Products, especially Ivory
- Dato. Abdul Kadir bin Abu Hashim, Director General of Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Peninsular Malaysia: Illegal ivory trade- Malaysian Government’s Strategies and Effort
- Mr M.G.C. Sooriyabandara, Director General, Department of Wildlife Conservation Sri Lanka and Head CITES Management Authority: Elephant conservation in Sri Lanka
- Mr Justin Gosling, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Consultant: Update on Elephant Poaching and Trafficking in Myanmar
- Mr. Suraphong Chaweepak, Director of International Wildlife Trade Permission, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Thailand: The Conservation of Thai Elephants for Sustainable Development
- Mr Masayuki Sakamoto, Executive Director, Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund: Japan's domestic ivory market posing a potential threat to Asian elephants
Speakers and audience at the AsESG side event
The meeting was presided by Mr Vivek Menon, Chair AsESG and the following speakers spoke at the workshop with audience from across the globe.
- Mr Salman Saaban, Director, Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Johar, Malaysia (AsESG member): Policies and strategies for securing corridors in Malaysia
- Dr. Isabelle Lackman, Founder Director, HUTAN: Mediating elephant corridors in a mixed forest-agricultural landscape in Malaysian Borneo
- Dr Sandeep K Tiwari, Program Manager IUCN AsESG: Strategies for securing elephant corridors in India
- Dr. J. Antonio de la Torre & Dr Wong Ee Phin, University of Nottingham Malaysia: Using elephant movements to assess landscape connectivity under Peninsular Malaysia’s Central Forest Spine land use policy
- Mr. Krishna Hengaju, IUCN Nepal: Impacts of Linear infrastructure on elephant and tiger including other wildlife and its mitigation measures initiatives in Nepal
- Ms. Rachel Crouthers, WWF Cambodia (AsESG member): Increasing connectivity: Challenges of implementation in Cambodia
Ms. Rachel Crouthers addressing the workshop
A retired professor of English at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata (India), he was involved with conservation, management and research on elephants in India for many decades. He was one of the founder member of Asian Elephant Specialist Group and member of the advisory committee of Project Elephant in India in 2004 and many other committees. Prof Lahiri Choudhury has worked extensively in Meghalaya, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal and other elephant areas in India surveying the status and distribution of elephants, human-elephant conflict and other elephant conservation issues.
Prof Lahiri-Choudhury was a prolific writer and has authored many books on elephants including the “The Great Indian Elephant” and “A Trunk full of Tales: Seventy years with the Indian elephants”. Prof Lahiri Choudhry received Ananda Puraskar in 2007 for his book in Bengali on elephants (Hatir Boi).
Appreciation for Prof Lahiri Choudhury by Dr A.J.T.Johnsingh
Addressing the members, the Hon’ble Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Kingdom of Thailand General Surasak Karnjanarat said that the meeting provides a good opportunity for experts on Asian Elephants to look at various aspects of the wild and captive populations and to provide technical support to governments and others on long-term conservation of Asian Elephants. Thailand has developed the Twenty Years National Master Plan for the Conservation of Elephants to address best practices for the sustainable conservation of wild and captive elephants.
Welcoming the guests, the Deputy Regional Director of IUCN Asia, Dr T. P. Singh, informed that the uniqueness and value of IUCN Species Survival Commission and its Specialist Group like the Asian Elephant Specialist Group embodies the spirit of IUCN’s ‘One Programme Approach’. Through this approach IUCN will continue to play its convening role and bring together Governments, Civil Society, Research organisations, Universities and other stakeholders to work together to assist with addressing emerging transboundary conservation challenges in the long term conservation and management of Asian Elephants. Chairing the meeting, Mr Vivek Menon, Chair AsESG spoke about the importance of the AsESG to save the flagship species. He said “it is greatly heartening to see the assemblage of such skill and passion among the members of the AsESG. As a group of scientists and experts, it is our duty to use these attributes to ensure the survival of the Asian elephants for generations to come.”
At the meeting, the chair presented on the work done by the Group since the last meeting in Guwahati and the work plan till 2020. The Status of elephants in all 13 range countries was presented by the Range Country officials. The outcome of all the 12 Working Groups formed by the Chair was also presented by the Working Group conveners and the final outcome documents are expected by early 2019 except on HEC. The Group also discussed on the need to have more Working Groups to address the other aspects of elephant conservation and the challenges faced.
The issue of the influx of Rohingya refugees on elephant habitat in Bangladesh and the crisis that has gripped the world both from a humanitarian point of view as well as ecological point of view were also presented by the IUCN Bangladesh Country Head. They are investigating the impact of the refugee on wildlife habitat and how to minimize the resultant increase of HEC in the region. The Chair has also formed the AsESG Working Group to prepare plan to address the issue.
Other issues that were discussed during the meeting include - DNA based registration of captive elephants, research and progress for managing Elephant endotheliotropic Herpes virus (EEHV), impact of linear infrastructures on elephant habitat and mitigation approaches, illegal trade of live elephant and body parts, especially elephant skin trade in Myanmar.
The meeting was followed by two optional post conference field tour to Kui Buri National Park and Khao Sam Roi Yod marine National Park on 28 th and 29 th April 2018
AsESG Working Groups
Working groups have been formed to look at following
aspects of elephant conservation and the plans/ guidelines/ protocols are expected soon
a) Sabah Elephant Conservation Action Plan Working Group
b) Working Group to arrest the decline of the elephant population of Vietnam
c) Sumatra Elephant Conservation Action Plan Working Group
d) Working Group for developing guidelines for rehabilitation of captive elephants in the wild as a possible restocking option
e) Working Group on management and care of captive elephant in musth
f) Working Group to develop guidelines for the welfare and use of elephants in Tourism
g) Working Group for developing guidelines for creating artificial water holes in elephant habitats
h) Human Elephant Conflict Guidelines Working Group
i) Working group for mapping the distribution of Asian elephants in Range states
j) Working group on involving AsESG members to strengthen MIKE
h) Working Group on AsESG Communications
i) Working Group on AsESG Membership
New Working Groups
As an outcome of the 9 th AsESG meeting in Bangkok, three more Working Groups have been
formed. These include
a) SWorking Group to manage the elephant habitats affected by the settlement of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
b) Working Group to assist in developing the National Action Plan for elephant conservation in Bhutan
c) Working Group on emerging diseases affecting Asia elephants