Ruth Ganesh, Elephant Family's CEO, explains why, in helping big beasts such as the Asian elephant, we also take care of smaller, though no less important environmental concerns
What can the decline in the elephant populations of Asia tell us about our environment more generally? Quite a lot, says Ruth Ganesh. "The reality is if we lose the Asian elephant, we lose the forests and that means life itself is under threat," explains Ganesh, CEO of the conservation charity Elephant Family. "The elephant is our ambassador; it is a keystone species to which all life in the forests it inhabits, is linked."
In conservation circles elephants are occasionally known as "charismatic megafauna": big, handsome beasts that are sometimes said to draw undue attention away from equally worthy, though less visible, environmental concerns. However, as Ganesh explains, money raised in conjunction with Quintessentially Foundation via the 2015 Travels to My Elephant, not only helped preserve the Asian elephant as a species, but by buying corridors of forested land to join up pockets of elephantine habit, it also improved the greater environment and the livelihoods of local people.
"We first partnered with Quintessentially Foundation in 2015 for the first Travels to My Elephant adventure and because of this, it was possible to reconnect a forest landscape in Assam, north-east India to save the future for 1,700 endangered elephants," she says. "However, this was only possible by simultaneously meeting the needs of 200 poor, subsistence farming families who had found themselves living in the middle of an elephant highway."
This remote community were not only losing their livelihoods to crop-eating elephants, they were also in mortal danger, since they were living beside wild and often stressed elephant herds.
"Thanks to our partnership with Quintessentially, we have been able to recreate their village, reinstate their dignity, livelihoods and return the forest pathways to the elephants," says Ganesh.
In the coming months, Elephant Family, using funds raised on the Travels to My Elephant 2017 rally from Jodhpur to Jaipur, hopes to consolidate this work, improving the Udalguri district of Assam, in the foothills of the Himalayas.
"The area is home to 40% of the entire Asian elephant population in India and nearly 10% of Asian elephants worldwide," explains Ganesh. "However, the entire southern border opens out to a large landscape dominated by human activity resulting in a 70% loss of forest cover."
Ganesh and co. will oversee the replanting of one million trees in the region over the next 10 years, and, working with the wider Asian Elephant Alliance, they hope to raise £20m by 2025, to secure 101 elephant corridors across India.
While the participants in this year's rally, crossing Rajasthan on Royal Enfield motorcycles, decorative Gujarati Chagda bikes, and vintage Jeeps, might look like unlikely environmental champions, they're raising crucial funds, and spreading an important message. "Asia's elephants are in trouble," says Ganesh, "and in need of help." We would be wise to heed this call; in conserving these highly visible beasts, we also take care of less prominent ecological concerns.
If you are interested in taking part or supporting the 2017 Travels to My Elephant, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org