Arunachal Pradesh: Elephants shipped to Jamnagar amid wildlife smuggling allegation
For representation only Credit: Representational image

Guwahati: Pachyderms continue to be shipped to the Ambani-run trust facility in Jamnagar, Gujarat from Arunachal Pradesh despite concerns of habitat displacement.

During the wee hours of Tuesday, a group of volunteers from the All Adi Students Union (ADISU) stopped ten trucks carrying ten elephants in Pasighat.

Around 100 ADISU cadres stopped these trucks led by two SUVs, suspecting an illegal wildlife trade initially. Later, it emerged that these elephants were being taken from Chowkham in the Namsai district of Arunachal Pradesh to Jamnagar in Gujarat to a facility owned by a temple trust linked to Reliance group’s Mukesh Ambani.

According to Tasang Taga, the Divisional Forest Officer of Daying Ering Wildlife Sanctuary, all the elephants were in captivity at Namsai. “We received a few calls from ADISU volunteers who suspected that these elephants were being smuggled out of the state. However, we found that the transporters had all the requisite permissions to transfer these animals to a facility in Gujarat state,” Taga told EastMojo.

“All of these elephants were microchipped to track their movement to the designated area from Namsai by the Arunachal Pradesh Wildlife Department. There is no provision to transfer any wild animal. These elephants were all captive,” the forest official added.

The DFO further added that these trucks were accompanied by three doctors and 17 mahouts. According to the documents available with EastMojo, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife and Biodiversity) issued permission to transfer these on May 31 under the Wildlife (Transactions and Taxidermy) Rules, 1973. As per the documents, six males and four females were being transferred from Namsai to one Radhe Krishna Temple Elephant Trust in Jamnagar.

One of the elephants, a seven-year-old male ‘Kamno’ was also in the convoy that was stopped at Pasighat. The transporters furnished a letter to the forest authorities, which shows one Chow Molaseng Namshum, a resident of Chongkham village in Namsai district, approaching the managing trustee of Radhe Krishna Temple Elephant Trust.

Namshum stated in the letter that he was the rightful owner of the elephant calf under Section 42 of the Wildlife Protection Act. However, due to increasing expenses, Namshum could not care for the calf, so he approached a Jamnagar-based trust to care for the elephant.

According to the permission accorded by the Arunachal Wildlife and Biodiversity Department, Radhe Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust has adequate facilities to house 150 elephants “with the state-of-the-art elephant hospital and manpower with enough provision of food supplies to meet all nutritional needs of an elephant”.

Namshum’s letter curiously stated there are 152 Asian elephants already in captivity at Trust’s area in Jamnagar.

According to the sources in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) is in the process of setting up an exotic destination for animals that will function both as a zoo and animal shelter in Jamnagar.

The project is called ‘Greens Zoological, Rescue, and Rehabilitation Kingdom’ which was spearheaded by the Mukesh Ambani’s son, Anant. The source also claimed that the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) under the MoEFCC has approved the plan for the Jamnagar Zoo.

“Most of these elephants are being taken by a temple trust called the Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust through gift deeds. These gift deeds are registered on ₹20 stamp paper, which is kept a secret,” the source stated. Curiously, Section 43 of the Wildlife Protection Act states that no person, who has a certificate of ownership for a captive animal, animal article, trophy (or uncured trophy) in his/her possession is allowed to transfer/shift by the means of a commercial transaction that animal.

Although no monetary transaction has taken place between the owner, Namshum and Radhe Krishna Temple Elephant Trust, such a kind of transfer of a Schedule 1 animal is only permissible for existing public zoos and museums under the Wildlife Protection Act. However, under the Wildlife (Transactions and Taxidermy) Rules, 1973, the Chief Wildlife Warden of a State is empowered to permit such a sale or donation of a whole wild animal or even parts of an animal.

Using the same provisions, in April, seven other elephants were shipped to Jamnagar with the permission of Arunachal Pradesh’s Chief Wildlife Warden. In a similar case, five ‘elephant owners’ had approached the wildlife department to donate the captive elephants to the Jamnagar based trust.

In 2019, the Assam government had to stop the transfer of four elephants from Tinsukia to Ahmedabad after animal rights activists, Urmimala Das and Nandini Barua approached the Gauhati High Court with a PIL. Later, the Assam government suspended the decision citing extreme heatwave in Gujarat.

A senior Assam-based elephant expert under the condition of anonymity told EastMojo that despite several efforts to stop such kind of transfer of Asiatic elephants to arid parts of India, both Central and the State governments have not paid any heed.

“Since the ban on timber logging, which used elephants extensively, Assam and other northeastern states have shipped closed to 1,200 elephants illegally to other parts of India. Such a transfer is a direct violation of Wildlife Protection laws especially about Schedule 1 animals. Even if these elephants are transported in an airconditioned truck, this is a clear case of habitat displacement and therefore it can be called a wildlife crime,” the expert added.

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