The declaration of the elephant as the National Heritage Animal of India on Thursday by the Union government has received hearty welcome from animal lovers. The decision has special significance in Kerala because the State has a large number of captive elephants and the manner in which they are kept has been constantly questioned by animal lovers.

In fact, Kerala is a State where the figure of human-captive elephant conflict is very high and this is often attributed to a natural reaction from the side of the animal to the cruelty to which it is being often subjected.

The National Heritage Animal status for the elephant was one of the important recommendations of 12-member Elephant Task Force which submitted its report to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests on August 31.

The government accorded the prestigious status for the elephant following the approval of the Elephant Task Force recommendation by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife at its meeting on October 13. Project Elephant Director A.N. Prasad has said it will be notified in the Gazette of India soon.

Private ownership

Animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi told The Hindu that she wholeheartedly welcomes the decision. But now since the elephant has been declared a National Heritage Animal there can no more be private ownership of elephants for the simple reason that a National property cannot be owned by private individuals.

All temples and private individuals owning elephants should immediately surrender them to the government. But, has the machinery for that been constituted, she asked. So, in the first place, the setup for that has to be evolved and then there should be rescue centres for such elephants. There should also be clarity on the punishment for private individuals if they happen to keep this National Heritage Animal. Unless there are subsidiary rules, the declaration may not serve its purpose, she said.

Important step

Elephant Task Force member Suparna Ganguly has said that she is absolutely motivated and excited over the declaration. This should have been done many years ago. The present precarious condition of elephants in India warrants more resources. The moot point is that if the world needs the elephant India has to take the lead for it and the declaration is one important step in that direction.

Animal rights activist A.G. Babu has said he will welcome the decision in all laudable terms. But it has to be ensured that the declaration does not remain only on paper. Already there is a heritage status for the elephant as people see it as Lord Ganesha. In spite of that the animal in captivity is subjected to untold cruelty. It has to be ensured now that better days have dawned for the elephants, especially for those in captivity, he said.

Former president of the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad M.K. Prasad has said that the elephant richly needs the status. Though a huge animal the elephant never evokes fear in human minds, at least in India. He hopes the national status will bring an end to the untold cruelty to which captive elephants are subjected to at the hands of man.

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