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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 13:20 GMT
India reflects on a hefty problem
Jill McGivering
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Indian elephant in south India
Many elephants enjoy high status
An animal welfare group is preparing to harness Indian elephants with special reflectors to protect them from traffic accidents.

The experimental reflectors will be used by domesticated elephants that walk along unlit roads at night.

Distribution will begin in March.

Wildlife experts estimate that about 10 elephants are injured in road traffic accidents every year.

India has about 5,000 domesticated elephants.

Most are owned by temples in southern states such as Kerala where they have a ceremonial role and enjoy high status.

Widely used

Wildlife officials say they are more concerned about elephants in northern states, including the capital Delhi, where they are used for commercial purposes.

Busy street in Calcutta
Indian roads are often busy and dangerous
Some are hired out for wedding processions; others used in advertising or promotions.

Many of these have to travel from one place to another by road, usually at night.

Where roads are unlit, they are hard to see and are often hit by lorries, cars or other vehicles.

The charity Wildlife Trust of India is behind the scheme. The reflectors will hang from the elephants' backs.

They are made from fabric similar to that used on lifejackets and by traffic police.

No pressure

Anirudha Mookerjee, director of programmes for the Wildlife Trust of India said: "We've started by developing something functional and rudimentary - you just need a surface that reflects light because most of the trucks and cars would have their headlights on.

Indian elephants
Elephants often form strong attachments to their mahouts
"Only in heavy fog would you need a blinker and that's likely to be expensive."

Elephant owners will not be forced to use them - but they will be provided free of charge at first as wildlife experts assess their usefulness.

The problem is also being assessed by Britain's Blackpool Zoo.

A spokesman for the zoo said they were looking at more advanced prototypes, including the possibility of solar-powered elephant lights.

He added: "We are trying to find manufacturers in the UK who could come up with a logical, practical piece of kit that could work - we're still at the talking stage."

If these were practical to use and manufacture, the zoo would also try to help with providing funding, he said.


SEE ALSO:
Drunk elephants kill six people
17 Dec 02 |  South Asia
In pictures: Indian elephant festival
14 Jan 03 |  South Asia
Tribals cleared from elephant reserve
21 Feb 03 |  South Asia


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