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Fighting for India’s Elephants

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Fighting for India’s Elephants

Award-winning filmmaker Sangita Iyer is fighting to help India’s elephants who are suffering from exploitation and the effects of human expansion.

The elephant matrix series
Videos of The Elephant Matrix series

Los Angeles, January 12, 2024 — There are only about 35,000 to 40,000 Asian elephants left on planet Earth. Most of them, more than 25,000, are in India, which is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. These elephants desperately need help. Humans are continuously encroaching on their habitat. Elephants are being abducted and exploited for religious ceremonies and tourism. Elephants are being hit by trains.

 Her Mission? Save Elephants!

Meet the woman on a mission to save India’s elephants. Sangita Iyer, the Indian-Canadian, award-winning filmmaker, author, biologist, and founder of the nonprofit Voices for Asian Elephants Society, is developing innovative and practical solutions to  the key problems facing India’s elephants. She revealed, exclusively to UnchainedTV, that she plans to replace real elephants with with robotic elephants in some religious ceremonies. She is already installing, across India, a high-tech elephant alert system for trains. But, these campaigns cost a lot of money and her nonprofit needs help from the public to make it all happen.

Click Here to Help Save India’s Elephants 

UnchainedTV is showcasing Sangita Iyer’s extraordinary work by streaming Asian Elephants 101, a powerful TV series she produced that lays out the plight of India’s most iconic species and how we can save them.  You can watch it here: https://watch.unchainedtv.com/the-elephant-matrix

Sangita Iyer spoke with UnchainedTV’s Jane Velez-Mitchell about her latest campaigns for India’s elephants. You can watch their fascinating conversation here:

Exploiting Elephants in Indian Temples

Shackled elephants in India
Shackled elephants in India (c)VFAE

In India, many elephants are exploited for religious purposes,  kept in Hindu temples that keep them chained for life and parade them during stressful festivals. Iyer explains how paradoxical this is:

“The tragic paradox is that, in India, elephants are worshiped as Lord Ganesh, who is considered to be the wisest Lord, the one that blesses people with prosperity, etc. And to make this God happy, they are exploiting and abusing God’s own creations, and that’s the tragic paradox that I found.”

Some of the custodians of these elephants have made a business to commercialize these animals, who are considered India’s Heritage Animal and are classed as protected in the country. But, the law is not enforced and elephants continue to be captured from the wild and exploited for profit in the name of culture and religion.

Breaking News: Robotic Elephants About To Hit India! 

However, there is an easy solution. During the conversation with Jane, Iyer revealed a piece of exclusive news for UnchainedTV. She said, “Our nonprofit organization, Voices for Asian Elephants, is going to be launching a robotic elephant. I’m so excited. I can’t tell you when, where and how, but very soon.”  Such animatronic elephants could replace live elephants in the temples, and fulfill those religious roles minus the cruelty.

“My mission is to do everything possible to protect the endangered Asian elephants, particularly in India, because 55 to 60% of the Asian elephant population is in India.” — Sangita Iyer, Voice for Asian Elephants

High-Tech Solutions to Protect Elephants from Trains

Elesense being installed
Elesense being installed (c)VFAE

Iyer’s team is providing innovative solutions, not just documenting the problems. In addition to advocating for elephants exploited in Hindi temples, Iyer has helped develop a high-tech solution to the problem of elephants killed by trains. She explains:

“We partnered with a couple of local conservation organizations and we created this amazing, groundbreaking technology called Elesense, that detects elephants around 500 to 750 meters in the surrounding areas. It detects the presence of elephants through laser, and thermal detectors, and then it sends out an SMS message to the Forest Department, the railway department, and our team. Then, they send a walkie-talkie message to the train pilots to slow down. Just by doing this, we have averted 637 elephant deaths between January and December 21st of 2023, and now we’re getting ready to expand it.”

Buying Land to Create Wildlife Corridors for Elephants

The VFAES team has also created wildlife corridors by buying a few acres here and there that connect elephants from one wild area to another. They are also campaigning to stop tourists from getting on elephant rides. To run all these projects they need donations. People can go to the vfaes.org  website to donate, as her organization is a US-based, 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt public charity and contributions are tax-deductible.

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Curtis Vollmar holding a placard in front of court

“We live in a modernized world and elephants belong in the wild. This planet does not belong to human beings alone.” — Sangita Iyer, Voice for Asian Elephants

A Childhood Encounter with an Elephant

Sangita Iyer
Sangita Iyer

Sangita Iyer is a multiple award-winning nature & wildlife filmmaker, and author of several books — the most recent being Gods in Shackles. She’s also the director and producer of the globally acclaimed epic documentary, “Gods in Shackles“, which was nominated at the United Nations General Assembly, and has garnered 13 international film festival awards. Iyer received the “Nari Shakthi Puraskaar” (Women Power Award) from India’s President, the highest award for women making a difference in India. She is also the founder and president of the Voices for Asian Elephants Society, a nonprofit created in 2016 to protect the wild and captive elephants of India and other Asian countries. She explains where her love for elephants comes from:

“My journey began when I was a three-year-old child. I was born and raised in the southern Indian state of Kerala and my grandmother would take me to the temple and just leave me at the feet of a bull elephant. The two of us would hang out, and this bull would take care of me like I was his own child. He would just hold me, and I had no fear at all.”

From a very young age, she became a champion for elephant rights, starting with a question to her grandmother that revealed what life for captive elephants is really like in India:

“One day, when I became a teenager, my grandma actually told me a story, and she said, ‘Sangita, do you know, when you were four or five years old, you once asked me this question: how come that chain has a shackle, and how come I don’t have anything like that on my legs?’ “

“India is one of the most densely populated country on the planet and these two dominant species are trying to sustain themselves and exist. Coexisting peacefully is critically important.” — Sangita Iyer, Voice for Asian Elephants


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