Stanley Johnson and Queen guitarist Brian May team up to save Asian elephants

Stanley Johnson. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Stanley Johnson. Picture: Nigel Sutton. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Conservationist Stanley Johnson has called on the prime minister of India to bring an end to the killing and abuse of elephants in the country.

Asian elephants. Picture: PA/Steve Parsons.

Asian elephants. Picture: PA/Steve Parsons. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

The former MEP, who has written numerous books on environmental issues, is one of 17 high-profile figures to have signed a letter to Narendra Modi urging him to improve his country’s treatment of Asian elephants.

Mr Johnson, 74, of Park Village East, Regent’s Park, is joined by Queen guitarist Dr Brian May and fellow conservationist Lord Alexander Macmillan in signing the letter written by leading lawyer and animal rights campaigner Duncan McNair.

The letter notes that the numbers of wild Asian elephants have declined from estimates of a million or more in the 19th century to barely 40,000 today, of which 25,000 live in India.

In the letter, Mr McNair puts this decline down to the capture and hunting of elephants, as well as the decline of their natural habitat due to the ever-expanding human population.

Queen guitarist Brian May. Picture: PA/Ben Birchall.

Queen guitarist Brian May. Picture: PA/Ben Birchall. - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Mr Johnson told the Ham&High: “A huge amount of effort is going into raising awareness of the plight of African elephants. In our focus on the African elephant, we really shouldn’t forget about the Asian elephant.

“The Asian elephants are really under a great threat. As the Indian middle classes become ever-increasing in number, elephants are becoming the consumer accessory – you get married and you have an elephant at the bridal ceremony.

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“One of the things we are particularly concerned about is the way the elephants are treated in the temple. These poor young elephants are battered into submission.

“Given the huge numbers of Asian people in Britain today and given the number of people who are concerned about animal welfare and conservation, it made sense to write this letter.

“I think this is one to bring to the attention of the Great British public and the government in its dealings with India.”

Asian elephants are found across southeast Asia from India in the west to Borneo in the east.

According to Mr McNair, African elephants outnumber their Asian counterparts by about 20 to one.

Through visits to India, Mr McNair has also come to learn of “pajan” – a brutal ritual used to make baby elephants submissive to humans after their capture.

He said: “Baby elephants are worth a lot of money. They are snatched in the wild and typically their mother is killed in front of them because she tries to protect her offspring.

“The baby is taken away, deprived of food and water and then beaten with sticks and bats and hammers to deplete its spirit. seventy-five per cent die as a result of the beatings.

“The purpose of pajan is said to be to break the spirit of the baby elephant to make it supine for use in tourism and in temples for weddings and festivals.”

Mr McNair added: “It’s all driven by the commercial imperative and everyone in the world should know about this. It is a matter of a few short years before elephants in the wild are completely annihilated.”

If you wish to get involved with Mr McNair’s campaign, email or call 07852 416696.