The problems facing the Indian Elephant population are quite different from those facing Thai elephants. India is home to 27,000 wild elephants and, as such, there are many incidents of human-elephant conflict. As the population of India skyrockets, the elephant habitat shrinks, forcing elephants to leave the forest in search of food and shelter and coming closer to human neighborhoods. Retaliatory killings, such as electrocution/poisoning, collision with trains and trucks are pushing elephants closer to extinction.
Voice for Asian Elephants Society (VFAES) was founded by Sangita Iyer and is focused on the plight of these Asian elephants.
VFAES has been instrumental in helping create the Kerala Corridor, which has transformed plantation land into an elephant habitat and has created corridors so the elephants can move freely between forest patches, reducing human-elephant conflict and thwarting inbreeding that causes genetic disorders and untimely deaths. This innovative project has lessened the death toll averaging 400 elephants every year, and 400-500 humans.
VFAES has also begun Project Flashlight, which provides flashlights to villagers, so that chance of accidental night encounters with wild elephants is reduced. Research has shown tragic accidents can be averted when basic safety measures are used, including alerting the elephants of humans via flashlights. Flashlights combined with education will reduce these chance encounters and bring down the death toll.
Another project of VFAES is "Saving Odisha Elephants from Traffic Deaths". Elephant deaths caused by traffic collisions are rising in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. Major highways cut through core elephant habitats, forcing elephants to cross busy roads in search of food. Speeding motorists and ineffective signage cause most of these deaths. VFAES is in the process of installing brighter, higher and more effective signs to warn drivers of possible elephant crossings. The aim of VFAES is to secure a future for Odisha’s forgotten elephants by promoting harmonious and respectful human elephant coexistence.
VFAES has also embarked on the daunting task of helping India’s temple elephants. Although elephants are regarded as a deity in Indian culture, the elephants actually are treated as anything but revered animals. Rather, many elephants are rented to temples for parades and other festivities.
Launching workshops to help sensitize key temples, training elephant handlers to use positive reinforcement, and empowering those with knowledge and tools are just some of the other ways that VFAES is working to improve the welfare of temple elephants, lessening the suffering of these beautiful animals.
Sangita Iyer founded Voice for Asian Elephants Society to empower the people of India to end elephant slavery, especially in places that are designed to practice peace and not cruelty.
Sangita Iyer is a National Geographic Explorer. She has won multiple awards for her nature and wildlife films, both as a broadcast journalist and a biologist.
She recently produced a documentary-series about Asian elephants and is the director and producer of the globally acclaimed “Gods in Shackles”.
Sangita has received the “Nari Shakthi Puraskaar”—Women Power Award, the highest award given by the Indian President for women who are making a difference.
Sangita’s courage in exposing the plight of captive elephants being exploited for profit in the name of religion and culture has made her voice even more powerful.
Sangita has a Masters in Environmental Education and Communication and a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. Her filmmaking and activism has earned her numerous global awards and honors.