Bhubaneswar, Oct 19: In a significant stride towards elephant conservation, the Odisha Government in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) launched the ‘Gaj Utsav’ campaign on 18 October 2023 in Bhubaneswar.
The event witnessed the presence of distinguished dignitaries such as Shri Pradip Kumar Amat, Hon’ble Minister, FE&CC, Odisha, Govt. of India, Shri Sushil Kumar Popli, IFS, PCCF and CWLW, Odisha Forest Dept., Shri Debidutt Biswal, IFS, PCCF and HoFF, Odisha Forest Dept., Shri Satyabrata Sahu, IAS, Additional Chief Secretary, Forest, Environment and Climate Change, Govt. of Odisha, alongside other esteemed guests representing the Legislation, District Administration, Forest Department, Media and civil society.
The launch ceremony was marked by the unveiling of 5 elephant art pieces handcrafted by local artisans, and curated by eminent artist and writer, Ms Ina Puri. This was followed by a symbolic baton handover and this unique Public-Private Partnership will take forward the vision of bringing the Gajah (elephant) to the Prajah (public) through the elephant districts of the state. The event showcased a series of engaging activities including cultural performances, a cycle rally, and informative sessions, all designed to highlight the importance of protecting these magnificent creatures and their habitats. It concluded with a Media Panel Discussion on “Sensitive and Responsible Wildlife Journalism.”
Gaj Utsav is a visionary campaign by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), supported by the Whitley Fund for Nature (UK) and Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, with a mission to raise awareness about safeguarding the future of India’s National Heritage Animal, while also advocating for their essential Right of Passage. Since its inception in 2018, this campaign has been creating a significant impact across elephant range states in India.
Odisha is home to over 1900 elephants spanning three elephant reserves. While these majestic animals roam freely across the country’s vast landscapes, they face challenges in their right to move across their natural habitats. Gaj Utsav seeks to encourage collective action among policymakers, media, infrastructure agencies, legal professionals, and wildlife experts, fostering insightful discussions on challenges, conservation strategies, and sustainable development models for elephant protection.
This year's celebration in Odisha marks another milestone in the ongoing efforts to safeguard these magnificent animals and their habitats. Over the last 5 years, the campaign has successfully engaged with 75,000 people across the country.
Vivek Menon, Founder and ED, Wildlife Trust of India, and Chair Asian Elephant Specialist Group IUCN SSC, said, “WTI welcomes the launch of Gaj Utsav in Odisha that celebrates our National Heritage Animal and its Right of Passage, at the hands of Hon’ble Minister, Forest, Environment and Climate Change-Shri Pradip Kumar Amat. We are partnering with the Odisha Forest Department to pass on the message of elephant corridors and the need for habitat linkages to the common man.”