Concern over ten elephants being transported to Gujarat grows, CRAR
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Guwahati: The Centre for Research on Animal Rights (CRAR) has written to the forest departments of Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam over the transportation of ten sub-adult elephants to Gujarat’s Jamnagar from Arunachal Pradesh.

The letter demanding a probe into the transportation dubbed to be suspicious reads, “The entire country stands shocked and outraged at images and videos from Pasighat of ten trucks carrying 10 sub-adult elephants from their fertile, lush, tropical, natural habitat of Arunachal Pradesh, 3400 km apart, to the dry, unnatural terrain of Jamnagar, in western Gujarat.”

This cavalcade, led by two SUVs, was intercepted by animal rights activists and members of the Adi Student Union, along with forest and police officers on the night of June 6, 2022. 

However, the trucks were then permitted to proceed as they had or were armed with ironclad paperwork, the letter stated.

The documentation present included veterinarian fitness certificates, No-Objection certificates from both the Gujarat and Arunachal Forest Departments, and non-commercial donation documents between the Elephant Owners and the Radhe Krishna Temple Welfare Trust in Jamnagar. 

The letter further read, “The cavalcade – in which each elephant per truck is strapped in, boarded by wooden frames – is racing without any stops through Bihar for six more days of the total nine-day journey. I’m writing in extreme concern – which is shared by every other wildlife activist I have spoken to on the ground – to alert you to the seemingly illegal trade of freshly captured wild elephants being legitimised, based on facts presented later in this letter.”

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Activists on the ground confirm that at least four such “dispatches” of elephants to Gujarat have taken place in the last few months. 

“We fear that the reactivation of age-old networks, routes and systems of capturing elephants from the wild, passing them off as captive elephants, and trading and transporting them out of the Assam-Arunachal elephant corridors will make a mockery out of the government’s efforts to stop the trade of elephants”, the letter added.

The CRAR expressing concern over the transportation wrote about the elephant named Kamno.

Kamno is a seven-year-old male and is part of the ten elephants being transported to Jamnagar. 

Divided into points, the CRAR stated that Chow Molaseng Namshum was granted an “Ownership Certificate” for Kamno under Section 42 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, as late as May 25, 2022, which raises many concerns and irregularities that require immediate investigation. 

Secondly, the CRAR question on how did Namshum come into the possession of a sub-adult, juvenile elephant? 

“The OC, in a worrisome departure from protocol, does not mention whether the elephant was acquired through purchase or succession or if the elephant was born in captivity. The silence on the pathway to the elephant’s acquisition raises legitimate concerns of illegal capture”, he added.

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The CRAR further questioned the declaration that the elephant has a hole on the right ear which most of the time is a standard training practice to rope and train a young, mostly wild captured, elephant. This method is commonly used in Assam as per the letter.  

The letter further added, “On 26th May 2022, the very next day after being issued the OC, Namshum applied for permission before the Divisional Forest Officer, Namsai Forest Division, for permission to transfer and transport the elephant to Jamnagar.” 

CRAR pointed out that this raises suspicion that the OC (ownership certificate) was acquired explicitly for the purpose of transferring the captured wild elephant to Jamnagar. 

The letter added, “Your office granted a transfer/transport NOC on May 31, 2022, without adequately investigating Namshum’s claim to the elephant, given the lack of any details about the source of the elephant in the ownership document.”

The CRAR based on documentation and study of the case came to a conclusion that the said elephant, Kamno was illegally captured from the wild, and reclassified as a captive, following which Namshum hurriedly obtained an ownership certificate, and immediately transferred the elephant to the trust in Jamnagar. 

“It also remains implausible that Namshum would undertake the administrative trouble of acquiring Kamno only to donate him for free the very next day. News reports and activists on the ground have confirmed that all the other nine elephants were also sub-adults, with whom a similar procedure, as with Kamno, was followed”, the letter added.

It may be mentioned that all captive elephants come from the wild and even though the wild elephant population is distributed across central, eastern and southern India, all captive elephants in India, largely, come from the wilds of Assam-Arunachal elephant corridors.

The CRAR further said that Arunachal Pradesh remains the only state still handing out private ownership certificates for a Schedule-I Animal, when its legality, and also that of gifting elephants, lies sub judice and pending in Writ Petition 743 of 2014 before the Supreme Court of India. 

It may further be mentioned that The Hindu, on June 7, 2022, reported that these ten elephants may have been purchased from a few owners and not simply donated, which is in direct breach of Section 43 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

“According to the documents, the 10 elephants — mostly sub-adults — were domesticated and purchased from a few owners from Chowkham in Namsai district by the Radhe Krishna Temple Welfare Trust of Jamnagar.” “Due to the combined hard work of many, in the form of activism, lobbying, education, and multiple policies and legal intervention, these illegal trade networks from the north-east have been in the decline. The ongoing illegal dispatch and the following compilation of news reports from just the past few months confirm that we may be heading back to the old, violent days of the Kheddah”, it read.

In August 2021, the Assam Forest department seized two trucks carrying two female elephants from Arunachal Pradesh to Odisha. The seizure was upheld by the Guwahati High Court which came to the clear conclusion that the transfer was, in fact, based on a commercial agreement and transaction, disguised as a gift, and in contravention of section 43 of the Wildlife Protection Act.

On October 6, 2021, forest officers in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal seized a truck with two female elephants, one 18-year-old and another 8-year-old, being smuggled and transferred from Banderdewa, Arunachal to Jamnagar, Gujarat.

Again in October 2021, two other elephants were transferred from Namsai, Arunachal, to Jamnagar, Gujarat 

Between March 21 to 31, 2022, several news organisations in Arunachal and Assam have reported seizures, poor upkeep and the final release of nine elephants being transferred from Namsai to Gujarat.

The elephants were reportedly in bad health, not given proper food en route, but were allowed to leave because like the present case, those trucks too were equipped with NOCs.

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The CRAR further said, “The above reports are just a few indicators of a much greater and frightening trend of more wild elephants being brought into the illegal trade in captive elephants. Arunachal and Assam cannot once again become suppliers of captive elephants for the rest of the country. And those captive elephants in need of rescue and rehabilitation within Assam and Arunachal must be housed in facilities within the northeast, in their natural habitat.” 

The CRAR added, “The Radhe Krishna Elephant Welfare Trust, along with a few other rescue centres across India, in conjunction with local forest departments, have created infrastructure to house 200-300 captive elephants in need of rescue and rehabilitation. Their work is commendable and offers fresh hope of sanctuary for elephants in dire need of care.”

The CRAR added, “This is why it is particularly concerning that are we sending young, sub-adult elephants – who appear to be recently captured – all the way from the Northeast, their natural habitats, to Gujarat.”

It added, “The Radhe-Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust would, we are sure, be equally alarmed to know that it might have inadvertently become a part of a larger scheme of illegal elephant trade. We seek to alert the Trust, as well as all forest departments concerned, to this, through this letter.” 

“I urge you to uphold the spirit and meaning of the Wildlife Protection Act and immediately conduct an independent investigation into the recent illegal transfers of elephants and stop granting any further ownership or transfer NOCs. I sincerely hope while the department takes strict action, the Radhe-Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust offers a much-needed clarification, and an immediate future course correction”, the letter to the forest department concluded.

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