New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) Union Forest Minister Harsh Vardhan on Saturday launched a 15-month-long campaign — Gaj Yatra — to raise awareness about the shrinking space for India’s wild elephants and their corridors.

Over the next 15 months, the Gaj Yatra will do roadshows across 12 elephant states.

The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), which is leading the campaign, also launched the second edition of its publication “Right to Passage”, which found and mapped a total of 101 elephant corridors in 2017.

The last 2005 edition of “Right to Passage” had declared a total of 88 elephant corridors across 22 elephant states.

Gaj Yatra, which is partnered by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), is the biggest-ever event planned around India’s wild elephants.

Harsh Vardhan, WTI Executive Director and CEO Vivek Menon, and actor and WTI Brand Ambassador Dia Mirza flagged off the campaign marking the World Elephant Day.

“In the recent past, a lot has been spoken about how elephants are being endangered and the measures that need to be taken to protect them. We are hopeful that through this campaign, man-elephant conflicts will reduce,” the minister said.

According to experts, Asian elephants now occupy a meagre 3.5 per cent of their historical range. The vanishing corridors or passages within the forests through which the animal migrates without human disturbance is the biggest stumbling block in the way of conservation.

“When WTI produced the first edition of ‘Right of Passage’ in 2005, we had mapped 88 elephant corridors. In this second edition, there are 101, which shows that elephant habitats have become more fragmented,” said Vivek Menon, adding that the Gaj Yatra campaign aimed to take “Gajah” (elephant) to the “Prajah” (people).

He added the Asian elephant was a keystone species on whose broad back so much of India’s rich biodiversity rested.

“We share our country with the largest number of Asian elephants. However, in recent years our wild lands have been steadily destroyed and degraded, posing a serious threat to elephants,” said Mirza.

She also participated in a walk and run event organised on the occasion, along with children.

This is published unedited from the IANS feed.