As part of the Project Elephant scheme, an eco-awareness camp was conducted by us in association with the Theni Forest Department at the Panchayat Union Middle School, Kombai, Uthamapalayam.

This region normally sees a flurry of man-animal conflicts with elephants frequently raiding crops. There was also a case of a woman being trampled to death by elephants. Her son was one of the students from this school. He was on leave on that day.

The camp was meant to be an introduction to the students into the behaviour, habits, food and other aspects of the elephant. As with our other camps, this involved a lot of interaction among the students as well.

 

The students were taught the differences between African and Asian elephants, in terms of height, size of ear, trunk and tusks. The absence of tusks in female Asian elephants was described. A description of the tuskless male, makhna, was also provided to the class in good detail. The reasons as to why elephants move out of forests into human habitation and also raid crops were delved in great detail. Aggression of elephants in 'musth', the reason behind this symptom, time duration of musth and how even other elephants tend to avoid another in musth were taught to the students.

The duration of pregnancy in elephants, the time taken to nurture the calf, the time frame between two calves, the social behaviour of elephants, the matriarchal family was discussed at length. Their superb sense of hearing and smell was also mentioned. The migration in search of food, water and a comfortable place to raise the young were showcased as some of the reasons why elephants sometimes come into conflicts with humans.

The students were told as to how rampant poaching of male elephants for their tusks had skewed the ratio of male to female elephants very badly which would in turn reduce the gene pool. Encroachments into the forests were one of the primary reasons for elephants now moving out of forests and raiding crops.

The students were finally asked to be in love with elephants and not fear them.

All the students and faculty agreed that these magnificent and gentle giants needed our protection and it was not necessary to hate them or provoke them. More such awareness programmes would be the need of the day to make people understand the need of elephants and our need of them as saviours of our forests.