Rapidly diminishing habitat and pressures from human activity has had a dramatic effect on wildlife populations in India over recent years. Not least is the endangered Asian elephant, where it is estimated that there are only about 1,000 remaining male ‘tuskers’ in a population of 25,000 elephants. The rate of poaching has increased to 100 males a year, which, if not checked, would give the species only another ten years before extinction becomes a certainty.
Vivek Menon has been, for the past ten years, at the forefront of the fight against organised wildlife crime and poaching in India. He trained in ecology and environment, first focusing on birds and monkeys, and later going on to work with the rhinoceros and the elephant. Besides being a biologist, he is a prolific writer with 150 published articles including regular columns in national newspapers. He is currently executive director of the Wildlife Trust of India, an honorary Wildlife Warden of New Delhi and the member of four specialist scientific groups with the IUCN. He has founded five different environmental organisations in India.
As a result of recent studies, Vivek Menon has discovered that elephant poaching increased nearly three fold between 1990 and 1996. However, a large number of carcasses go unreported, so the real estimates could be as much as five times the numbers recorded.
When the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ‘downlisted’ three populations of elephants in Africa in 1997 (this increased to four countries in 2000), it re-started the legal trade in ivory which had been previously banned for ten years. As a result, elephant poaching around the world, including India, increased.
Vivek Menon has found that the new wave of poaching in India includes new methods of killing elephants. He has also been tracking the trade of ivory from India, where it moves through trading blocks in the Middle East before ending up in Japan or China.
The pressure to open up the ivory trade even more is expected to continue. Vivek will continue to monitor the ivory trade routes and flow, illegal poaching activities and the overall effect on the Asian elephant population. This is paramount in order to provide the international community with a true picture of the effect of decisions they take.
Vivek Menon’s work also includes close liaison with the government, providing various agencies with statistics and advising them on laws and plans to combat poaching, as well as their enforcement.
2018 Continuation Funding
£70,000 over two years
Rite of Passage for India’s Asian elephants
With a population of 1.2 billion people, space in India is at a premium. Fragmentation of elephant habitat here brings herds into more frequent contact with humans, creating conflict that can have fatal consequences for both parties. Vivek Menon and his organisation Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) have been instrumental in identifying and protecting corridors in the North East of the country to allow elephants to move safely between patches of suitable habitat whilst reducing the risk of human encounters.
Continuation Funding will allow Vivek to scale up his operation, by establishing a cadre of 15 organisations to monitor and protect 28 corridors in Southern India. These ‘Green Corridor Champions’ will form part of a nationwide network of 55 such teams across 101 corridors benefitting the world’s largest population of Asian elephants. To execute this largescale project, WTI will work alongside fellow Whitley Award winners Ananda Kumar, Sanjay Gubbi, MD Madhusudan and Raman Sukumar.
Support for the corridors approach will be built through sensitization activities in fringe communities and local policy changes will be ensured to tackle emergence of new threats. Highly collaborative and landscape level in approach, this project will secure a ‘Right of Passage’ for one of India’s most revered animals.
2021 Continuation Funding
£70,000 over two years
Rite of Passage for Asian Elephants Through Three New Indian States
India is home to the world’s largest population of Asian elephants. Yet habitat loss and fragmentation are bringing herds into more frequent contact with humans, creating conflict that can have fatal consequences on both sides.
Since winning a 2001 Whitley Award Vivek Menon has put wildlife corridors firmly on the map, which facilitate the Asian elephant’s migratory mode of survival. He has convened grassroots and civil society groups to monitor their safe passage, through a nationwide network of Green Corridor Champions. In 2020, India’s Supreme Court ratified a state government decision to earmark the Sigur plateau as an elephant corridor, using Vivek’s evidence of the benefits to both wildlife and people. Recently elected as an IUCN Councillor, Vivek is perfectly placed to expand these efforts nationally as well as bringing international attention to the cause.
With Continuation Funding, Vivek and the Wildlife Trust of India will establish parliamentary support groups for wildlife conservation across three new states, upholding Asian elephants as a flagship species. In doing so, they will influence policy to ensure linear infrastructure such as railways takes elephants into account. Finally, Vivek will bring together a network of responsible media groups who can help broaden and sustain the conservation message, providing elephants with a true rite of passage across India.