What did people of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh do with the 167 elephants they got from Assam between 2005 and 2008?
A report compiled by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) showed that as many as 133 were transported from Assam between 2005 and 2008.
As per the record, 77 elephants were transported in 2006 from Assam, the highest in the conservation history of the state.
Similarly, 59 elephants were transported in 2007 from Assam. And, almost all the elephants transported in 2006 and 2007 were sent to Bihar.
During the same period, 34 elephants from Assam were transported to Uttar Pradesh.
Enquiries revealed that most of these elephants which were transported from Assam to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were for sale at the infamous Sonepur Fair.
Sonepur Fair is held on Kartik Poornima in the month of November- December in Sonepur in Bihar on the confluence of river Ganges and Gandak. It has its origins during ancient times.
The Sonepur Fair existed when Chandragupta Maurya (340 – 297 BCE) used to buy elephants and horses across the river Ganges. The biggest attraction of the fair was the Haathi Bazaar where elephants used to be lined up for sale.
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Elephants used to be openly sold at the fair. As per records, 92 elephants were sold in Sonepur Fair in 2001. The highest of 354 elephants was in 2004. Since 2006, the open sale of elephants has stopped.
Most of the elephants sold in the Sonepur Fair, had buyers from other states, mostly Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
The Sonepur Fair has been admired as the best bazaar for purchasing live elephants for temples in Kerala, especially for full grown tuskers. The Assam elephants were also acquired by local landlords of Kerala and kept them as status symbols.
Even now, there are reports of trading of elephants, during the Sonepur Fair. But now, the trade takes place in a private space beyond the realms of the infamous Haati Bazaar.
The TRAFFIC, a leading NGO working globally on trade in wild animals and plants had surveyed and documented some of the elephants at the Sonepur Fair, and had found that the handlers did not possess proper documents.
While captive elephants from Assam were the victims of the smuggling network, a significant number of them were caught from the wild.
The elephants caught from the wild were transported from Assam with forged documents and that too, in connivance with a section of corrupt forest officials.
But, as per the law, any such sale of elephants is illegal. The transportation could have been justified and supported with adequate documentation, but the sale was totally illegal.
As per Section 43 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, sale, purchase or transfers of captive elephants from one person to another for monetary consideration or any other profitable gain, is totally illegal.
Don’t the Assam Forest Department officials know that the elephants which they had allowed to be transported were sold openly in the Sonepur Fair?
Did the Assam Forest Department undertake any kind of action to locate the elephants, and bring them back to the state?
Or, did Assam’s successive Chief Wildlife Wardens ever try to negotiate with their counterparts in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to bring back the elephants?