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Indian Canadian Biologist Sangita Iyer Fights For Elephants

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Indian Canadian Biologist Sangita Iyer Fights For Elephants

NEW DELHI, (IANS) – With only 40,000 Asian elephants remaining worldwide, and 60 percent of them in India, biologist and conservationist Sangita Iyer is leading efforts to save these endangered creatures in their last stronghold. Based in Canada, Iyer recently joined Conservative MP Henry Smith in addressing the UK Parliament, urging Indian authorities to take urgent action against the alarming causes of elephant deaths, including electrocution, poaching, and habitat loss.

Together, they are collaborating with lawmakers, business leaders, and celebrities to mobilize support and protect these vital champions of the natural climate before it’s too late. With just 27,000 elephants left in India, the preservation of their last bastion is crucial for the survival of the species. Iyer, the founder of Voice for Asian Elephants Society established in 2016, is dedicated to safeguarding both wild and captive elephants in India.

During her presentation to the UK Parliament, Iyer emphasized that the threats faced by endangered Asian elephants in India have reached a crisis point, with an alarming rate of killings. She also referred to the state of Odisha as the “largest elephant graveyard.” Over the past ten years, nearly 1,200 elephants have been killed across India, and within the last three years, 245 of them have lost their lives in Odisha, where mining activities are rampant.

Reckless development, including mining, electrocution, railways, roadways, and agriculture, has already consumed 80 percent of the elephants’ habitats. The rise in forest fires, often ignited by arsonists and poachers to ensnare wildlife, further exacerbates their plight. Iyer voiced her concerns to top politicians, stating, “The plight of India’s heritage animal, the elephant, is soul-ravaging. Electrocution deaths tarnish India’s global reputation… Odisha mining companies are destroying forests and polluting lakes and rivers. Twenty-six endangered Asian elephants have been electrocuted in the last three years.”

“Why should the world care? Elephants are climate mitigators. Climate change affects every nation. What happens in India will have global repercussions,” she stated. Iyer further highlighted the interconnectedness of nations, emphasizing that while countries may have borders, climate change knows no boundaries. In her media note, she warned that recent amendments to the Wildlife Protection Act could lead to increased elephant captures, liberalized exploitation, and worsen the situation.

An International Monetary Fund study underscores the critical role of elephants in mitigating climate change, calculating the monetary and ecological value of one African forest elephant at $1.75 million in terms of carbon sequestration. Iyer stressed the urgent need for the world to pay attention to the ecological devastation unfolding in India, a country that houses 18 percent of the global human population. She stated in one of her tweets, “Every nation is interconnected, and India’s plight affects us all.”

As part of her recent initiative for elephant conservation, Iyer acquired a four-acre plot in Kerala’s Nilambur region dedicated to “re-wilding” and establishing a safe passage for over 340 elephants. Her award-winning documentary and book, ‘Go in Shackles,’ shed light on the exploitation of caparisoned temple elephants in Kerala for profit under the guise of religion. The documentary, released in 2016, received a nomination at the UN General Assembly and was featured at the International Film Festival of India.

Recognized as a National Geographic explorer, Iyer has produced a 26-part short documentary series about Asian elephants, supported by the National Geographic Society storytelling award.

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