Speeding train mows down elephant calf in Assam
Credit: Anshuma Basumatary

Guwahati: Assam forest department’s decision to send four elephants to Gujarat to take part in a religious function has drawn flak from conservationists in the state. While enduring a 3,100-km train journey from Tinsukia to Ahmedabad is being considered as hazardous for the animals in the least, another concern of activists is that these elephants may not even come back.

Sonitpur-based RTI activist Dilip Chandra Nath, who had filed an RTI in 2013 to know details about elephants transported from Assam, said, “Since 2007, 53 elephants were sent outside by the forest department but none of them came back. These elephants are generally sent on a lease of six months or one year. But even after the lease period gets over, they don’t come back. I was given details on transportation of elephants from 2008 to 2010. During this period, 36 elephants were sent to different states. In last few years, this trend of sending elephants outside had gone down. Unfortunately, it has started again.”

As per Nath’s information, of the 36 elephants sent outside from 2008 to 2010, 32 were sent to take part in religious functions. Among these 32, 17 elephants were sent to Bihar, eight to Uttar Pradesh, two each to Karnataka and West Bengal and one each to Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Gujarat.

“Sending elephants to take part in religious processions is profitable for the elephant owners as well. In such cases, they will get ten times the price for their elephants than what they get if they sell their animals in Assam,” added Nath.

However, if monetary transaction is involved in the process, the owners might get into trouble as it will violate Section 43 (1) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which says, “No person having in his possession captive animal, animal article, trophy or uncured trophy in respect of which he has a certificate of ownership shall transfer by way of sale or offer for sale or by any other mode of consideration of commercial nature, such animal or article or trophy or uncured trophy.”

Also Read: Fate of 4 Assam elephants to be sent to Gujarat remains unknown

A veterinarian, who didn’t wish to be named, said that being sent to religious processions can harm the elephants in multiple ways. “Firstly, the journey itself is very gruelling. These animals will be sent in a metal wagon without proper cooling system. There will be attendants to sprinkle water on the elephants but obviously that is not enough in this intense heatwave in north India,” he said.

“Also, the climate of Gujarat is not suitable for elephants. There is a reason why this state is not a natural habitat of elephants. They love tropical climate and will have serious adaptability issue in dry and humid conditions of Gujarat. Their feeding habit also changes in the temple. They are being fed fruits, ghee and other stuff which is not their natural food. This affects their digestive and dental systems as well. Then, the loud noise and beating of drums during religious procession can bring out extreme behaviour from them. They can go berserk and attack human beings which they generally do when they are in musth,” he added.

As per reports, these elephants, which belong to owners from upper Assam, will join the Jagannath Yatra in Ahmedabad, slated to take place on July 4.

Meanwhile, Kaliabor MP Gaurav Gogoi wrote to Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar seeking his intervention to stop transportation of these pachyderms. In a letter, Gogoi expressed concern that the elephants might develop skin infection and suffer from dehydration during the process.

Last year, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had raised questions in Parliament regarding transportation of elephants from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to temples of Kerala. Tharoor said that currently, there are 518 elephants in Kerala without ownership certificate and majority of them were brought from the Northeast.

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