Smugglers run a notorious inter-state network in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland to sell elephants at a premium to the buyers outside the Northeast.
Mubina Akhtar, secretary of the Kaziranga Wildlife Society told Northeast Now on Wednesday that they have definite information about the modus operandi of the inter-state elephant smugglers network.
“This is really sad that we are fighting a losing battle in saving our elephants from the smuggling network,” Akhtar, a well-known wildlife journalist and an activist, said.
The smugglers are always on the prowl in the jungles in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland to catch juvenile elephants, she said.
Despite the strong provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the Supreme Court’s directives, sale of elephants from the three states in northeast continues to be a thriving business.
“They (the smugglers) engage people of villages close to the elephant-inhabited jungles, and use them as phandi (elephant trapper) to catch the juvenile elephants,” Akhtar said.
The smugglers operating in the three states, in connivance with a section of dishonest forest officials, manage to make the necessary documents to legitimise the juvenile elephants caught from the jungles and transport them.
“There is every possibility that powerful politicians in the northeast are also part of the elephant smuggling network,” the wildlife activist said.
Two of the four juvenile elephants – Rupsing and Rani – which were to be transported to the Jagannath Temple in Ahmedabad, were also caught from the wild.
The process of transportation of the four elephants was arranged on a fast-track route by the Assam Forest Department.
The Assam Forest Department officials issued transport permit to the elephants within hours of receiving the no-objection certificate from Gujarat Forest Department.
Permission to transport Rupsing and Rani was granted the day both were micro-chipped and issued ownership certificates.
It is surprising as to how fitness certificate was issued to Rupsing, which had unhealed bullet injury on its left foreleg.
The bullet injury was also an indication that the smugglers had opened fire to injure and trap the juvenile elephant.
Names of both the elephants did not feature in the list of 905 captive elephants sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forest on December 30, 2018 by D.P. Bankhwal, the then Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam.
“It is crystal clear that the smugglers always manage to find out ways to legalise the elephants caught from the wild,” Akhtar said, adding that the role of the forest official in the illegal trade is always murky.
The wildlife activist demanded that the Ministry of Environment and Forest should immediately take cognizance of the issue, and order a high-level inquiry to put a stop to the illegal trade.
A proper investigation by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau or the CBI will be the only way to crackdown on the inter-state elephant smuggling network, Akhtar said.