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Editorial

Elephants and their legacy

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By EMN Updated: Oct 15, 2013 9:37 pm
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[dropcap]J[/dropcap]ust a few days ago, an elephant (male) calf which was rescued on November 1, 2012 celebrated its first birthday at Intanki National Park on October 13, this year. The celebration was marked by presentations of gifts in the form of feed items, mineral supplements procured through voluntary donations from well-wishers. The elephant male calf has reportedly grown in rapid rate and is in good health.What is encouraging about most Nagas is that once somebody leads the way, they are willing to follow—for the better. Contributions obviously mean in cash and in kind that is is a good example, and which is still going on as we go to press.
When discussing about elephants, the truth is that they are literally non-existent in Nagaland although in some parts they were used for carrying/ferrying logs. They are a blessing in many ways but can also be destructive in other ways. According to many Naga tribal traditions, dreaming of elephants are not taken as good omens, rather as a forewarning.
However, in our neighbouring State, Assam Haathi (Elephant) Project has trained more than 30 people from communities affected by elephants in each study area. These teams of field researchers collect information on elephant locations and behaviour locality, either through direct sightings, secondary evidence such as foraging evidence or tracks, or information from local villages. Data on herd location, movements, demography and general behaviour are recorded using GPS units (Global Positioning Systems), standardized questionnaires and monitoring sheets. This method gives us good information about the elephants and actively involves the communities in the work of understanding and managing human-elephant conflict.
A number of project staff have also been trained in elephant identification and tracking. Our database of elephant identification data is continually growing, and the field teams are now able to recognize individuals by their sex and age, as well as distinct features such as ear shape and scars. This information helps to link reports of crop-raiding to elephant herds and allows to track elephants as they move through the district. It also enables the identification of individual elephants, as some, in particular lone elephant bulls, can be more prone to crop-raiding than others.
All of the information collected is stored on a central database, which is linked to a Geographical Information System (GIS). The GIS allows us to query and analyse our data, and produce maps, which are a great tool for sharing our findings with the communities involved and helping them understand the bigger picture of the conflict. GIS also allows us to carry out more advanced spatial and statistical analyses on patterns of elephant movement and behaviour in relation to land use, season and human activities.
So far, in the Assam Haathi Project the data collection methods have been kept deliberately simple and low-tech. Telemetry, that is, fitting elephants with radio collars and tracking them remotely, has its advantages in terms of the amount and accuracy of data that can be collected. However, these high-tech methods are extremely expensive and do not as easily and as extensively involve local communities. For the time being, the priority is to achieve active participation from the communities affected by elephant crop-raiding, in order to instill them with an opportunity to understand and appreciate the conflict, its challenges, and its possible solutions.
In Hindu mythology, their deity Lord Shiva and his consort had a son whom they named Ganesha. This child later on had his head chopped off by his father for some other reason but to preserve his entity Shiva gave him the head of an elephant. Eventually it came o mean that Ganesha’s trunk symbolises the fact that the wise person has both immense strength and fine discrimination. Ganesha has large ears. The wise person hears all. He has four hands. In one hand he holds a lotus, the symbol of enlightenment. In the other hand he holds a hatchet. That is, the old karma, all your sanskars, the accumulated good and bad of past deeds get cut when enlightenment comes.
The third hand holds laddus, the round sweet-meats. They are the rewards of a wise life. Ganesha is never shown eating the laddus. The wise man never partakes of the rewards of his deeds. He is not attached to them. The fourth hand is shown blessing the people. The wise man wishes the best for everyone.
Ganesha has only one tusk; the other is shown broken. There is an interesting story as to how Ganesha happened to get an elephant’s head and how one tusk got broken. The symbolism of the broken tusk is that the wise person is beyond duality.
We tend to think that we end when our bodies end in the material world. We are the first person. All else is different. This duality is created by the mind which creates the ego to help us survive in this world. This ‘me-other’ duality is the screen keeping us from realizing our real Self, which is beyond body and mind. Once we transcend this duality, we see the entire Universe as a single whole and we become aware of our true Selves. The single tusk of Ganesha symbolises this non-duality. Wisdom allows us to see all as one and ourselves an integral part of the whole.
Ganesha is shown sitting with one foot on the ground and the other resting on his knee, above the ground. The wise person is of this earth, yet not entirely of this earth.
Ganesha is shown seated on a rat. The reason for saying that Ganesha ‘rides’ on the rat is that the rat is among the greediest of all animals. It will keep nibbling at whatever is available, eating everything it can. Scientifically, too, the rat’s teeth keep growing and it has to keep chewing on something to keep these within limits. The rat is a symbol of our senses, which are never satisfied. They crave new experiences, new tastes. Left uncontrolled, they keep growing forever. The wise person rides on his senses. He keeps them under control.
Ganesha is often shown seated in front of a tray of sweets. In these images the rat is shown sitting in front of Ganesha, perhaps a bit to one side, looking up at him. The senses of the wise person are under his control and the rat dare not eat the sweets without the permission of Ganesha.
Ganesha is the son of Shiva and Parvati, the God governing the life-force and the earth-mother. This symbolises the spirit and body of the wise person. Finally, the wise person has the dignity of an elephant.
When Hindus say “Aum Ganeshaya Namah” before starting anything they are saying is that “In what we are about to do, let wisdom be our guide”. In a sense, Ganesha is a most powerful god, and he is usually remembered before starting any rituals for other deities.
That is as far as Hindu mythology goes. However, even in Naga folk lore, the rat has both negative and positive roles. The Westerners like to say that a rat deserts a sinking ship—and why not? To survive, of course.

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By EMN Updated: Oct 15, 2013 9:37:49 pm