Why aren’t we talking of elephant conservation: Photographer Rajesh Bedi (IANS Interview)

New Delhi, Sep 8 (IANS) Among animals, tigers seem to be the favourite subjects for a majority of the wildlife photographers and conservationists. But, internationally acclaimed wildlife photographer and filmmaker Rajesh Bedi says the state of the country’s pachyderms is very precarious and questions: “Why are we not talking of elephant conservation?”

Bedi, who was the first Asian to win the Wildlife Photgrapher of the Year award of the British Naturral History Museum and BBC Worldwide in 1986, has been spending time with elephants since he was nine-years-old.

“The state of elephants at the moment is very precarious. All the elephant corridors have been hijacked by humans – be it through highways, colonies, felling forests. This needs to be clearly demarcated,” Bedi told IANS in an interview.

Development could be important for the country, but not at the cost of the elephant population, he maintained.

Elephants are the most charismatic, emotional, and animals and there’s a mystery behind them, Bedi said, adding: “They are very much like humans, although large in size. It is one of the reasons why I have a special love for elephants.”

Bedi shares his love for animals from his father, the gifted naturalist and wildlife photographer Ramesh Bedi, and his elder brother Naresh Bedi.

Naresh and Rajesh Bedi – the Bedi brothers, as they are known – have had their films nominated for the British Academy Awards and also won an Emmy Award for Rajesh’s film on child prostitutes.

Bedi’s latest photo exhibition ‘Elephant – the divine mystery’ is on display in the national capital’s India Habitat Centre till Sep 10, which has stunningly large enlargements of his collection.

“It dates back to when I was nine-years-old. I used to go with my father and elder brother to Corbett (National Park, now in Uttarakhand). Those days it was hard to see a tiger, mostly the encounters were with elephants. I used to grow up looking at them click pictures of the elephants – that was the turning point in my life,” Bedi reminisced.

Bedi began his photographic career in the 1960s, a time when the Indian wilderness was in a poor state, having been ravaged by generations of shikaris, poachers, land developers and pot-hunters.

Countless hot hours spent walking along the jungles looking for elephants, sometimes walking nearly 30 km a day, is something that has made him understand more about them, he said.

“I picked up the various rules I have to stick to around animals by going on foot. When you’re on foot, everyday you walk, you learn lessons on how to cope. This is the difference between then and now – where the law states one can click pictures of animals only sitting in jeeps,” Bedi said.

Bedi, who started his photographic career in 1960, knows the tuskers inside out and said one has to go around on foot to predict these animals.

“When you know the elephants in and out and can read the expression of their eyes and can predict what they are going to do next, by looking at the position of the ear and the eye,” Bedi explained.

As animals, he said, elephants are very intelligent as one should be careful to notice even the wind direction when one is in their vicinity.

“The wind should flow from elephant’s side to you, rather than from your side to the elephant. No elephant will tolerate that. The moment they have human smell, they will move away or attack people and will not cooperate,” the wildlife enthusiast said.

With a mere 30,000-35,000 elephants left in the country, Bedi added that in every conservation movement, unless the local people are educated, conflict with animals cannot be avoided.

The number left is not big enough for the size of our country, he said.

With the quality forest cover where elephants can inhabit being at only 21 percent, Bedi said these mammoths are being forced to move into human habitations in search of food and water.

“We should have it in our textbooks right from an early age on how to deal with animals and why it is important to protect animals,” he said.

(Bhavana Akella can be contacted at bhavana.a@ians.in)

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