New Delhi, Oct 22 : The environment ministry Friday declared the elephant a national heritage animal in order to step up measures for its protection.

The ministry Friday issued a notification in this regard after the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) approved the proposal in its meeting held Oct 13.

The Elephant Task Force Aug 31 in its report had recommended the special status to elephants, saying the move will help in protecting the jumbos.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh during the release of the report had said that elephants have been "part of our heritage since ages" and there is need to give the same degree of importance to them as given to the tiger in order to protect the big animal.

The report by the 12-member committee also called for setting up of a statutory agency National Elephant Conservation Authority (NECA) on the lines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) with a substantial enhancement in the budgetary outlay.

There are about 25,000 elephants in the country with about 3,500 in captivity. India is home to 60 percent of elephants in Asia.

India started Project Elephant in 1992 to provide financial and technical support to the elephant range states in India for the protection of jumbos, their habitat and corridors and address issues of human-animal conflict

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