Indian Elephants Severely Endangered

N E W   D E L H I, India, June 5, 2001 -- India’s elephant population is teetering on the brink of extinction because of rampant poaching and brutal training methods, a leading animals rights activist who is also a federal government minister said.

“Elephants are almost extinct in India. I say this with great responsibility because we have less than 20,000 elephants,” Maneka Gandhi, head of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, told Reuters.

Only Males Have Tusks

She said the problem had become particularly acute because the country’s population of tuskers, or adult male elephants, was dwindling fast.

“There are less than 800 tuskers left in India which means the semen distribution is low because there are only 800 inseminators and they are being killed all the time,” said Gandhi, a former environment minister.

“The Asian elephant is not like the African elephant. Only the males have tusks.”

Environmentalists say the ratio between male and female elephants in India has become so skewed because male elephants are targeted by ivory poachers for their tusks.

Iqbal Malik, a leading animals rights activist, said India was losing 10 percent of its tusker population every year to ivory poachers.

“That is what has caused this imbalance. In fact, 10 years ago the situation was not so alarming when we had more than 5,000 tuskers,” Gandhi said.

She also blamed cruel training methods, indiscriminate cutting of forests, rapid urbanization and the rising human population for the current crisis.

“One is the destruction of the habitat and the second is this constant catching of elephants for training, for tourism or logging. And this training that we are doing of elephants is the most brutal, primitive and stupid in the whole world,” she said.

Foreign Experts to Be Brought In

Gandhi said elephants were often starved and beaten while being trained and 50 percent of them died in the process.

“The worst areas of cruelty are Kerala [in southern India] and the northeast. Kerala kills one elephant a week,” she said.

Foreign experts should be brought in to educate Indian trainers and illegal logging operations should be stopped to help save the elephant, she said.

“We must stop the logging operations because logging in the northeast is in any case illegal. So use of elephants in logging is equally illegal.”

Gandhi is the widow of Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi died in a 1980 plane crash.