- In 2021, Rajasthan forest officials rescued an elephant from traffickers who were transporting the elephant to another state without a transit permit.
- The case for the custody of the elephant is sub-judice at the Rajasthan High Court while the elephant awaits its fate at a government nursery in Dungarpur, Rajasthan.
- The central government has issued norms in 2017 for Elephant Rehabilitation/Rescue Centres which includes treatment of captive elephants in housing facilities. Rajasthan has its guidelines too, for elephants that are kept in captivity. However, the state does not have the infrastructure to fulfill the requirements of the guidelines.
In Rajasthan, an elephant rescued from traffickers over 500 days ago, still awaits a suitable shelter. In the absence of proper infrastructure to treat rescued elephants, officials are unsure of the appropriate next steps. Meanwhile, the elephant’s health continues to worsen.
On November 18, 2021, the forest department of Rajasthan rescued the elephant named Rupa (also called Champa) in Dungarpur, some 500 kilometres from Jaipur, the state capital. The smugglers were arrested and then released on bail in February 2022. The elephant, however, still awaits her fate at a government nursery in Dhambola town in Dungarpur district. The elephant is temporarily kept here, since 2021, under the supervision of government officials, informs Sugna Ram Jat, Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF), Dungarpur district.
“The elephant was being transported from Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat via Rajasthan. After getting a tip-off, we traced the vehicle and rescued the elephant. For transporting a wild animal, the forest department should issue a transit permit, which the accused did not have. We sent the animal to our nursery and arrested the transporters,” informed Jat.
The case of where the elephant belongs, is currently pending at the Rajasthan High Court. DCF Jat said that after the arrest of the accused transporting the elephant, a man claiming to be the elephant’s owner reached out to the Dungarpur District Court. He had documents issued by the Uttar Pradesh forest department. “On that basis, the lower court gave custody to this man. But we challenged it in the Rajasthan High Court. Judges asked the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department to verify the authenticity of the documents. Uttar Pradesh officials have already submitted a report to the Rajasthan High Court. Now it is up to the court to decide the elephant’s fate. We are in favour of sending the elephant to a shelter home, where she may get proper care,” said Jat.
Rupa’s deteriorating health
Khushboo Gupta, Director of Advocacy Projects for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India says that any captive elephant that is surrendered and in the custody of the Chief Wildlife Warden becomes state property and thus, should be housed at a recognised zoo or rescue centre when it cannot be released to its natural habitat. If Rupa is in state custody, then she must be immediately shifted to a rehabilitation centre, says Gupta.
The central government has issued norms in 2017 for Elephant Rehabilitation/Rescue Centres under Section 42 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which includes treatment of captive elephants in housing facilities. The 18-point guidelines for the rescue centres mention the area where elephants should be kept under the officer’s supervision. A mahout or a helper of elephant should be available. Moreover, an elephant goad (ankush) hobbles, or any other painful restraint devices is strongly discouraged. The elephant should be taken out for walking regularly, the guideline says. Rajasthan has its guidelines too, for elephants, such as Rupa, that are kept in captivity. Most of the seven-point norms align with the central norms.
While the legal process is going on, the condition of Rupa is deteriorating. She is not able to stand or eat properly.
Due to worsening health, samples of her dung and blood were sent to Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), located at Izzatnagar, Bareilly, in Uttar Pradesh, in April 2023, informs DCF Jat of Dungarpur. Doctors found that she is suffering from Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV).
On the condition of anonymity, an official from IVRI has confirmed this. The official said, “EEHV is a fatal carrier disease. It aggravates if the stress level in elephants rises. We received her blood, dung, and serum samples. We found that the elephant is suffering from EEHV disease. The animal looks normal in this disease, but the stress can make it fatal.” The hospital has suggested forest officials in Rajasthan provide better nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to the elephant to help it recover.
DCF Dungarpur, Sugna Ram Jat clarifies that there is no elephant rescue centre in Rajasthan. “We have maintained a register for the vaccination or diseases or medication given to the elephant. But fulfilling all the requirements is not possible. It is the primary reason we have requested the court send it to the proper rehabilitation centre in Uttar Pradesh. This will be helpful for the elephant but the matter is pending in court,” said Jat.
State needs rethinking
The Elephant Hospital based in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh is being considered to be the forever home of Rupa by the forest department, says Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-Founder & CEO of Wildlife SOS.
While talking to Mongabay-India, he said that the objective is only to provide humane care, treatment, and long-term medical support and rehabilitation to the rescued elephant.
But experts say that Rajasthan needs better infrastructure for rescued animals. Tapeshwar Singh, president of Mukundra Wildlife and Environment Society, Kota, said that there is no proper infrastructure for rehabilitating rescued wildlife animals in Rajasthan. The state needs it.
“Not just through traffickers, geographically, many wild animals like crocodiles from Kota, leopards from Udaipur, and blackbucks from Shekhawati/Hadoti regions are rescued yearly to avoid human-animal conflict. They are sent to the zoo. Although there is always a budget constraint in the zoo as the government gives the budget to zoo officials only for the animals on display. The condition of such animals further deteriorates. So, even if we have a guideline for captive elephants, we need a comprehensive policy for rehabilitation of wild animals with required infrastructure at the state level,” said Singh.
While talking to Mongabay-India, Khushboo Gupta from PETA said, “A rescued elephant from captivity needs specialised care at an elephant rehabilitation centre to heal from the physical and psychological trauma of captivity, which is not possible in Rajasthan where there is not any rehabilitation centre. The state can urge the court to order for elephant’s interim care at a rehabilitation centre, to ensure the elephant’s welfare,” said Gupta.
Banner image: Rupa, the rescued elephant. Photo by special arrangement.