The Asian elephant has a new champion — Britain's Prince Charles.
On Tuesday, the Prince and his wife Camilia launched an ambitious fund-raising drive for the elephants' conservation by putting on auction 20 intricately-designed auto-rickshaws and a 10-foot model elephant named 'Tara'. The auction by Sotheby's in the gardens of Lancaster House helped raise 700,000 pounds (about Rs 6.9 crores), which will form part of the 1-million-pound fundraising drive for the 'Travels to My Elephant' campaign aimed at creating safe corridors for wild elephants in Assam.
With the number of these elephants decreasing rapidly, it is feared that these elephants may face extinction by 2050. According to the World Wildlife Fund, there are as few as 20-25,000 such elephants left in the world, with loss of habitat and poaching for ivory cited as major reasons for this.
Prince Charles, who is the joint president of the Elephant Family, which is running the campaign along with Quintessentially Foundation, said, "This is an enormously important cause, particularly because of its human-animal dimension. The establishment of corridors has the ability to transform the lives of the local farmers. If we can just complete the Assam corridor, it would make a fantastic difference in that part of India."
The campaign was launched earlier this year in memory of conservationist Mark Shand, the founder of the Elephant Family charity. Shand, who died suddenly in 2014, was also Camilla's brother. He wrote "Travels on my Elephant", which tells the story of his 1,000-mile journey across India on an Asian Elephant, Tara. Shand had rescued Tara in 1988 from "a life of begging and misery on the streets of India."
Britain's Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, is shown a rickshaw designed by her sister Annabel Elliot and Luke Irwin.
An autorickshaw called 'Tara Taxi' was sold to British financier Evelyn de Rothschild for 100,000 pounds (close to Rs 1 crore) on Tuesday while 'Calcutta 74' created by Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee was sold to ex-Beatle George Harrison's widow Olivia for 55,000 pounds (roughly Rs 55 lakhs). Meanwhile Hilary Weston, owner of high-end department store chain Selfridges, bought two autorickshaws for a total of 80,000 pounds (Rs 80 lakhs).
Five conservational NGOs, including Wildlife Trust of India, Elephant Family, International Fund for Animal Welfare, IUCN Netherlands and World Land Trust, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to raise around 20 million pounds to create 100 elephant corridors in India by 2025.
The 'Travels to My Elephant' campaign will see a fleet of 30 rickshaws race 500 kilometres as part of a planned "epic Indian adventure" across Madhya Pradesh to the elephant Tara's home at Kipling Camp.
"Journeying through some of the country's most colourful and awe-inspiring countryside, from the erotic sculptures at Khajuraho to the tiger reserves of Bandhavgarh National Park, teams of two from all corners of the globe will take on the unique challenge," an Elephant Family statement said.
(with PTI inputs)