This is an account of the life and times of elephants, which have been at the centre of the cultural and religious ethos of communities living on the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years.
The author, Ajav Desai, is a field biologist. He has spent long years studying and following the fortunes of elephants in India. While documenting the natural history of these magnificent animals, simply yet authoritatively, he makes a fervent plea for the protection of the gentle giants and their forest home.
The author is contactable c/o: the Bombay Natural History Society, Hornbill House, Shahid Bhagat Singh Marg, Mumbai 400023
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has been a fount of knowledge for over a century. It has created and nurtured thousands of naturalists from all walks oflife. Today the Society continues to add to the body of information gathered by all-time greats such as R.W. Burton, E.P. Gee, J.B. S. Haldane and, of course, Dr. Salim Ali, the 'Grand Old Man of Ornithology .' Long before the subject of environment had become fashionable; before the word biodiversity had even been coined, the study of nature was a mission for hundreds of BNHS members. In time this enduring institution gave birth to an amazing network of amateurnaturalists. Their prime joy, apart from tramping India's wilds, has always been to share their experiences, knowledge and information about nature with others.
It is in this context that the production of the NCSTC-HORN- BILL series should be viewed. India is losing its natural wealth at a frightening pace and it is vital that decision-makers are exposed to the very real value of the ecological assets being lost to the nation. It is equally important that the rationale for wildlife conservation is understood. Humans, for instance, do not possess the technology to re-create the millions of hectares of natural forests, grasslands and wetlands we lose each year.
To maintain and to enhance the green mantle, which protects our soils and our water sources, we need the elephant to transport mango seeds. We also need chi tal to carry grasses from one part of the forest to the other as we do the tiny leaf warbler's non-toxic 'pest control' contribution. The cleaning service performed by turtles and crocodiles, frogs and the larvae of dragonflies helps make the water in our lakes and rivers drinkable. Every creature on Planet Earth performs a useful ecological role ... save for Homo sapiens.
We probably started out right, but our capacity for abstract thought, our intellect and our relatively recent penchant for consumerism, have lulled us into the mistaken belief that we can escape the consequences of the grievous damage we inflict on ecosystems and species. With each forest we lose, each river we degrade each mangrove and coastline ecosystem we alter, the viability of the Indian subcontinent to sustain future Indians is diminished. Simultaneously the quality of life of perhaps over 100 million earth-people: among them, fisher folk, forest dwellers, nomads and pastoralists ... is lowered and their security compromised.
This latter aspect of the environmental and wildlife movements has only just begun to assert itself in our national psyche. Young people everywhere, social activists and human rights groups are fast recognising that protecting forests for the tiger, rhino and elephant automatically serves to protect both forest cultures and resources for communities which live outside the market system.
In the coming days this new partnership between naturalists and earth-people is destined to play a vital role in defending wild India. Towards this end individuals such as Ajay Desai have a crucial role to play as disseminators of scientific information. If the NCSTC-Hornbill Natural History Series manages to enhance the ecological information base of such initiatives and to replace pure sentimentalism with pragmatism in the battle to save nature ... our purpose will have been admirably served.
This is one of a series of booklets that have been in the making for years! The wait has been worth it... both in terms of the contents and the fact that we have been able to win the involvement of the most authoritative authors on the various subjects chosen for the titles in the National Counci I for Science and Technology Communication, NCSTC-HORNBILL Natural History Series. NCSTC and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) joined hands to bring the science of natural history to young people though adults too are sure to relate to the style and straightforward presentation. We intend to produce more titles each year to cover as wide a spectrum of nature as possible. We expect the publications to serve the dual purpose of disseminating information and keeping an archival record on the eve of the next millenium.
We wish to demystify the subject of ecology ... to make it both understandable and acceptable to India's future decision-makers. The inter-relationships, the complex webs of existence, the contentious and confusing environmental issues ... all these will need to be understood and grappled with by tomorrow's citizens. To the extent possible we have stayed away from scientific jargon for obvious reasons. We did not wish this initiative to be reduced to an isolated 'lesson' of the kind one often sees being taught in our schools and colleges.
In this book you will be introduced to elephants ... how they relate to life in India, their ecological role in nature and the severe threats that loom large over their future. Ajay Desai has attempted to present the elephant within the larger context of the ecology of the subcontinent. We trust that this (and the other titles in the series) will encourage readers to search for the larger picture, the totality of inter-relationships ... and thus better understand our own role on this planet.
List of Plates and illustrations
1. Elephants at Nagarhole
2. Asiatic elephant tusks and trunk
3. Tusker on ajungle trail.
4. Elephant tracks, Balphakram,
5. Large male elephant in musth
6. Elephant spraying dust
7. Author tracking a collared elephant
8. Elephant in zoo, elephant family
9. Nagaland cloud forest
10. The African elephant
II. African and Asian elephants compared
12. Project Elephant Reserves
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