320 elephants ‘leased’ by Assam have not returned

A trade racket of elephantine proportions, says activist

Updated - July 07, 2019 11:05 pm IST

Published - July 07, 2019 10:59 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Easy way out:  Most owners often cite poor resources as a reason to lease out their elephants.

Easy way out: Most owners often cite poor resources as a reason to lease out their elephants.

Assam has, over the years, transferred 320 elephants to other States through an ambiguous leasing system. None of these animals has returned, and many are not even traceable.

A December 2007 report on captive elephants by the State’s Wildlife Crime Prevention Unit (WCPU) said 259 elephants were transferred outside the State between 2003 and 2007. Records with the Assam Forest Department said 61 elephants had been transferred since 2008.

Immediately needed

The WCPU report said corrective steps ought to have been taken for stopping such transfer or transportation and to bring back the captive elephants after the expiry of the permission. It also said that Assam immediately requires the Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, the draft of which was awaiting the approval of the State Cabinet.

The scenario, wildlife activists said, has not changed in more than a decade after the WCPU report.

“Elephants are sold in the guise of a lease, whose term is usually not mentioned. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 is violated through this system that borders between legality and illegality. An elephant is sold for ₹10-15 lakh, depending on whether female, male and tusker. The juveniles are invariably sold, although technically only those above 8-10 years old — the period when they reach maturity — should be transferred,” said a wildlife activist declining to be quoted.

Forest officials dealing with the transfer of the elephants allegedly get a cut from the sale disguised as lease.

Investigation also revealed most transfers are made on a common plea — that the elephant owner is poor and does not have the resources to maintain his elephants.

The report also cites veterinarian and elephant expert Kushal Kumar Sharma as saying in 2006 that 78 elephants were sold in Bihar’s Sonepur animal fair and, from there, 35 elephants were taken to Kerala.

The report also said the elephants are “treated inhumanly by their owners”.

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