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Where've Delhi's elephants gone? Forest department clueless Where've Delhi's elephants gone? Forest department clueless

Aug-20-2014 | 0 Comments

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NEW DELHI: The forest department recently found out that the number of elephants in Delhi has come down from 14 in 2009 to just eight now. It has not been able to find out what happened to the six that are missing. Most of the elephants are kept in cramped spaces in a Wazirabad village with hardly any wilderness or waterholes around and only a large stinking drain passing by. Their mahouts or owners rent them out to temples, weddings and other events.

The fact that some elephants are missing or may have been illegally sold off by their mahouts came to light when the forest department recently conducted an inspection and found the numbers not tallying. "I had formed a committee to look into the status of captive elephants. We implanted microchips in them but we don't know what the mahouts did with those. There are eight elephants left now who have been recently checked. Show cause notices have been issued to mahouts whose elephants are missing. We did not get a satisfactory explanation from them as to how the six went missing," said A K Shukla, chief wildlife warden.

When TOI visited the area where they are kept, not a single elephant was in sight. All elephants had been sent off to temples for Janmashtami celebrations, said Mehboob Ali, who owns two of the animals.

"Elephants are sent to temples for festivals. We don't charge for it. The temple authorities give them food. Our great grandfathers started this tradition of keeping elephants; so even after their sale was banned we continued to keep them. It's a passion," Mehboob said. He claimed that some elephant keepers have got show cause notices but he, himself, hasn't. "Two elephants died recently. They were around 65 years old. Four others were relocated by their keepers. I don't have all the details," he said.

When asked about why a Schedule I animal was being kept in the cramped, concrete quarters, Mehboob said the Yamuna banks were ideal for the giant mammals.

"We were asked to move out from the bank. Abandoning or selling the animal was not an option," he said. Elephants are rarely taken to Yamuna banks now. They are usually given baths in their shelters. When being taken to Yamuna at night, there is always the fear of accidents on the highway. One pachyderm lost its life to such a mishap in Noida last year.

Dr N V K Ashraf, chief veterinary officer at Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) who also treats the captive elephants in Delhi, agrees that leaving the riverside has been a bad move for the elephants.

"They need land. On the Yamuna bank they had that but the water is polluted. Frankly, elephants are not meant for a city like Delhi. They could have lived comfortably here, say, 100 years ago, but not today. They are outside their range. The weather, too, is harsh. I think there should be more welfare activities and health camps for elephants in captivity," he said. In 2002, when Dr Ashraf moved here, there were 28 elephants in Delhi. "Their use for commercial activities should be phased out slowly," he said.

The Rajasthan government has developed an elephant village near Amber to rehabilitate captive elephants and mahouts. But it remains to be seen whether the experiment is successful or not.

Gajah, a report by the Elephant Task Force under MoEF, has recommended "eventual phasing out of the acquisition of elephants, already in captivity or wild-caught, for entertainment, commercial or other purposes by agencies, institutions or individuals". It also recommends an end to new commercial acquisition of wild-caught elephants by agencies, institutions or individuals.

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